So yesterday Canonical announced the mobile version of the Linux-based Ubuntu. The new OS uses a fancy new UI that relies heavily on gestures from the sides of the screen. You can read John Gruber’s opinion about fully gesture-based user interfaces, which I completely agree with.
Now a lot of people are seemingly excited about this. I, for one, could not find any spare fucks to give (other than the ones required to write this). Call me jaded if you will but I find nothing exciting about new mobile operating systems anymore because it’s almost a given that they are going to fade into obscurity after a few months, only to be found running on some enthusiast’s device who just can’t let it go.
When it comes to operating systems, two things matter: the core experience and the ecosystem. Ever since iOS and Android came out, others have been trying to improve upon the former but no matter how well they do, it doesn’t matter because they can never emulate or improve upon the latter. Not on their own, anyway.
So now we have a ton of mobile operating systems vying to be the third major platform and getting nowhere close. There is Windows Phone, which has been trying since two years now but has had no success. Even with all of Microsoft’s might behind it the platform could not manage attract the attention of the buyers the way iOS and Android did. So what chance do open webOS, Tizen, Sailfish, Firefox OS and Ubuntu have? At least Tizen is backed by Samsung, who can slap a device together to get it into the hands of consumers. The others don’t even have that.
And when they somehow do manage to get onto the store shelves, who’s going to buy them? Why would any sane consumer choose any of these platforms over the tried and trusted iPhone or Android? And if people are not buying, why would the developers bother working on apps for these devices?
So then once again we find ourselves with this chicken and egg situation. And that’s why I can’t help but be pessimistic about these new operating systems. Without a solid ecosystem*, I see no reason for myself or anyone else to move from what is a fairly comfortable life to something new and start all over again. I don’t want to miss having all my apps and games for being able to swipe from the side of the screen to quickly switch to an app that I don’t give a shit about on an OS I don’t give a shit about. So while I applaud the efforts of the likes of Canonical in working on new platforms, I also think they are wasting their time.
* I know that iOS and Android also had to start from scratch back in the day but things were different back then. Your alternatives were either Symbian, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile. It’s not surprising then that most people went with the new platforms instead. Today, however, both iOS and Android are established platforms. Moreover, they are great platforms. Which makes the presence of others all the more irrelevant.