Last year, Canonical unveiled its plan to upend the mobile industry with Ubuntu Touch. The mobile-friendly version of Linux already runs on a wide variety of Android devices, but the company wants to start producing Ubuntu Touch hardware as well. It tried its hand at crowdfunding one such device last year that ended in failure, but now the company has found two hardware partners to produce the first line of Ubuntu Touch devices.
Canonical announced today that Spain’s bq and China’s Meizu will be the first manufacturers to produce Ubuntu Touch devices. We don’t know much about the actual hardware yet, but Canonical says they will range from mid to high-end devices and be available later this year.
“The mobile industry has long been looking for a viable alternative to those that reign today,” said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu. “Ubuntu puts the control back into the hands of our partners and presents an exciting platform for consumers, delivering an experience which departs from the tired app icon grid of Android and iOS and provides a fluid, content-rich experience for all.”
So, who are Meizu and bq? Meizu is a small high-end smartphone manufacturer from China that employs over 1,000 people and operates 600 retail stores across China, Hong Kong, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine. It will expand to the U.S. later this year, and Ubuntu Touch will be part of those expansion plans.
As for bq, it’s a European manufacturer of multimedia devices that became Spain’s second biggest seller of unlocked smartphones in 2013. It will begin to ship Ubuntu Touch devices in 2014 as well.
Of course, people must now be wondering why Canonical chose these two companies as its first partners. When launching a new platform, you generally want to go with an established brand. Shuttleworth told CNET that they wanted to work “with partners for whom we can be a significant part of their story.” In other words, Canonical thinks Ubuntu Touch is going to be a hit and they want to bring some up and coming manufacturers along for the ride.
While signing on manufacturers is a big first step for Canonical’s ambitions, it’s going to need carrier support to actually launch these devices. Those plans haven’t been announced yet, but Canonical notes that it has an Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group made up of 16 carriers from around the world, including Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, T-Mobile and more. While their involvement is not an indication of their willingness to carry the devices, it’s a positive step for Ubuntu Touch as it makes its way to market later this year.