Click to Snap, Thoughts on the future of Ubuntu Touch Phones

Intro

Not all of you may know the story and the following isn’t anything exact (I’ll leave out anything that’s not important) but just a short overview over what lead to this headline…

Some years ago, Canonical decided they would go into the phone market and they “started” building Ubuntu Touch, a Ubuntu GNU/Linux that worked by “recycling” some Android parts. This was done through using some Android Tools inside a lxc container to get the device support up and running. Most importantly, they took the android kernels (@ first for Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 – 2013), added a few ubuntu specific parts (apparmor) and created a new package management using “click“-packages. In the end, or that was (/is) the plan, the phone and desktop ubuntu should have the same base. After releasing some handhelds (BQ Aquaris E4.5/E5/M10, Meizu MX4/Pro 5) and thus intensive field testing they seemed to realise that something about clicks didn’t do the trick and a new system was needed which lead to the developement of snaps. However, for snaps to work, further and newer elements in the kernel was needed which is why many of the sold devices couldn’t be (easily) ported to a snap based version of Ubuntu which basically means they won’t get the whole converged utopia that was planned.

Unless, someone (a) backports the necessary parts to older kernels or (b) brings newer kernels to all those devices…

Overview of Today

The good news is that for the Nexus 4 & 7, there is some mainlining effort going on so those might eventually get to work with Ubuntu Personal (the snap based Ubuntu).

Also, Canonical is working hard on bringing up the BQ Aquaris M10 tablet (launchpad kernel) with Ubuntu Personal. This means they are working on backporting all the needed stuff to an kernel 3.10.93 which might provide a base for similar work. (there was some backporting for older kernels >=3.0 done prior to kernel 4.2 here).

End-of-life device kernels

All the other devices sold with Ubuntu Touch and also those being ported by the UBports (link)people have an unclear future. The repos for the official devices are linked on the Ubuntu Touch devices page. For a quick overview (stated is only the branch which was originally cloned):

Official Phones

Nexus 4 & 7 (3.4.0) (here because it wasn’t in the above link)

Aquaris E4.5 (3.4.67), E5 (3.4.67)

Meizu MX4 (3.10.35), Pro 5 (3.10.61)

UBport Phones

Makefiles in all kernel repos i have looked state the version to be 3.4.0…

Resume

So, we can see, a lot of work has been done, but also a lot of work remains. The good news is, that for many devices running Ubuntu Touch, there is hope for getting a community upgrade to snappy if enough people work together (or at least i think so).

Stay tuned for some more ideas and perhabs even work on this subject.

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