Note: Mark Shuttleworth clarified that Canonical is not working on a tablet edition, but rather other companies are developing Ubuntu-based tablets. Canonical recently announced that they are developing a tablet version of their popular Ubuntu operating system, slated to be released in 2011. This comes hot on the heels of the release of the Apple iPad, and the rumors that HP plans to release a WebOS-based tablet sometime late 2010. However, Canonical’s foray into the tablet arena is fundamentally different from both the iPad and a WebOS tablet, and unfortunately reeks of a company failing to learn from their competitors successes and failures. Here are four reasons why an Ubuntu tablet simply won’t work.
a software company
One of the reasons Apple has been so successful with their mobile devices (iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad) is that they control everything about it. They control the hardware, they control the operating system, and they control the applications. The result is that they are able to deliver a streamlined, fully-integrated user experience. When HP unleashes their WebOS tablet, they will also be in the position of having full control over the device.
An Ubuntu tablet, however, offers none of this. It’s hardware by one company, OS by another, and applications by anyone – and there’s no guarantee that it will all play nicely together. The result will likely be poor battery life, a user interface that doesn’t work for most programs, and just general user frustration.
The single biggest mistake that Canonical is making is one that Steve Jobs has explicitly warned against. In an interview about the iPad, he told the Wall Street Journal:
“[Y]ou can’t use a PC operating system, and you have to bite the bullet and say, we’re going to have to create this from scratch because all the PC apps won’t work without being rewritten anyway.”
Unfortunately for Canonical, they haven’t learned this lesson, and they are heading down the path of scaling down a PC operating system to work on a tablet device. If the tablet OS is anything like the Ubuntu netbook remix, it simply won’t work on a tablet device.
Where are the applications?
One of the biggest selling points of the iPad was that the day it came out, there were 140,000 applications available for it, since from a software point of view it was essentially a scaled up iPhone. Since then, developers have been adding a reported 1000 applications per week.
But again, going back to points #1 and #2, this doesn’t hold true for an Ubuntu tablet. Sure, there are thousands of Linux applications, but how many of them will seamlessly transfer to a tablet form factor? Who is going to take responsibility for quality control of third-party applications?
In Linux, downloading packages from the repositories can be hit-or-miss; sometimes you will get a polished, well-tested application that works exactly as you need; but many other times, you’ll get an abandoned project that consistently crashes. Without high-quality, tablet-friendly applications, an Ubuntu tablet simply isn’t useful.
Apple has an obvious advantage in name recognition. Everyone knows what an iPhone is, and most people think “sleek” and “friendly” when they think of Apple products (though many also think “expensive”), and this is what people want in a tablet. HP will probably have a harder time trying to convince users that their tablet can be fun and easy to use, but they have the advantage that people know their name.
By contrast, almost nobody knows who Canonical is, what they do, or where they are coming from. The fact that they are most closely associated with Linux can only hurt them from a user’s perspective — most people don’t know what Linux is, and very few associate it with “fun” or “easy to use.”
Canonical is venturing into an entirely new market, and a year ago there might be some question as to whether or not their idea of an Ubuntu tablet would work. But the success of the iPad has made it clear what the public wants in a tablet, and a Canonical-made Ubuntu tablet, by definition, goes against all the lessons that have been learned about this new market in the past year.
What do you think?
Would you buy an Ubuntu tablet over an iPad? Do you think the Canoncial tablet will be a success? Am I completely wrong? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and let me know why you think the Ubuntu tablet will (or won’t) be a success.