back to article Converged PC and smartphone is the future, says Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, told The Register that converged devices – phones that can also be PCs – are the future of personal computing. Shuttleworth was at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week, where Ubuntu exhibited to show off its phones, tablets, and IoT (Internet of Things) initiatives. Among …

  1. AndyS

    I'm actually pretty excited about this. I carry around a heck of a lot of computing power in my pocket, but spend all day sitting at another computer which can't talk to it. Then I go home, where I have a NAS which can be accessed by all sorts of things, but also a desktop and a couple of laptops, all of which have their own storage, and setting them up to talk seamlessly to each other isn't trivial.

    In a few years, I can see the phone being powerful enough to do everything all the other computers I currently use can do. For consumer stuff it's already there. I'm looking for a new tablet just now, and very tempted by a Ubuntu one.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >a desktop and a couple of laptops, all of which have their own storage, and setting them up to talk seamlessly to each other isn't trivial.

      Hi AndyS. I thought I'd ask you, since you actually live this scenario. Is there any way you could envisage the above inconvenience being fixed by software? Your wording suggests that is is *possible*, but a bit of pain in the neck to configure/maintain.

      1. SolidSquid

        Main thing that occurs to me is that Synology's stuff has their Synology cloud app, which lets you sync data between devices and NAS automatically. Seems like that would reduce the effects of different storage at least, and streaming directly from the NAS is possible on the phone/tablet

        1. AMBxx Silver badge

          Surely this as all been addressed by MS with devices running OneDrive? I never think about how to get the files from my phone to my PC or laptop.

          Best case scenario is One Note - I just start One Note and all the documents are ready, regardless of which device I use.

          I assume it's similar with Google or Apple. There must be a way to do it with Ubuntu without having to much about with sync software like Dropbox?

          1. Dan Wilkie

            To be fair, that is the one thing I like about One Drive. It does a decent job of linking all my Office docs among all my machines.

            That said, if I want to synchronise other data, I'm in the same boat. I've thought about trying to do it all with OwnCloud, but my Pi has been currently pressed into service so the Mrs can watch some crappy series that the TV couldn't decode because Codecs.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    A phone running Ubuntu could have an appeal. Being able to use it as a general purpose computing device wouldn't be the major part of the appeal. The appeal would be that I buy the phone and that's the end of matters. What runs on it, apart from the phone S/W itself, is my choice, not the vendors. What it reports back to the vendors is my choice (nothing as it happens). Whether Ubuntu and their vendors would be prepared to restrict themselves to that sort of deal remains to be seen.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    It seems that the main advantage of Ubuntu's idea is seamless access to work-in-progress documents, but that could be done through software. You don't want your data on just one device anyway (loss, damage, failure), and the same mechanisms that make backing-up easier can also make data accessible to multiple devices.

    I remain unconvinced (but I actively welcome reasoned persuasion by you guys!) by the idea of having a Desktop OS put in a phone and the phone connected to a screen, especially when the cost of an SoC to run a Desktop OS on a TV is low (compared to a generic Snapdragon 8xx 2GB RAM 5" Android phone). A 'PC on a Stick' isn't going to take up much space in a kit bag, especially when compared to a keyboard or wireless mouse.

    I have usability concerns, too (i.e plugging a phone into a TV, then unplugging it when someone rings or you want to leave the room for ten minutes).

    Also, redundancy concerns: If you lose your phone, you can still use the 'PC on Stick' to contact friends and colleagues. Vice versa if your 'PC on a Stick' goes 'poooft!', or a crumb gets in your keyboard and stops the spacebarfromworking.

    So: Convince me, guys! :)

    1. SolidSquid

      The Asus PadPhone (I think?) had a feature where you could dock the phone in a screen for a tablet and the screen in a keyboard for a laptop, and came with a stylus which doubled as a bluetooth speaker/microphone. Seems like something along those lines could resolve the issue of how to take calls while it's plugged in, and honestly I think the tablet/laptop form factor would be more useful than plugging it into a TV anyway.

      Only real advantage I can think of is being able to go to a hotel room and plug it into a tv there, but how many hotel TVs have USB ports? Hell, how many have HDMI as opposed to SCART?

      edit: Almost there, but it's PadPhone rather than TabPhone. Still, I think that could have seen a lot more success if it had been powered by Ubuntu than Android, given that Ubuntu can provide a full desktop environment as well as mobile

    2. Updraft102

      I would have to agree. I don't think it is necessary or useful to try to converge dissimilar devices, or to try to create a single OS to run on them, a la Windows 10. Better synchronization between devices does not require them all to be running the same OS.

      Desktops (including traditional laptops) and mobile devices have different needs. Mobile devices use touch screens that are much smaller than desktop screens, so a different approach in UI design is required. A mobile UI, when expanded to a desktop monitor and used with a mouse, is frustratingly sparse; it is a poor use of the expansive screen space. A desktop UI, though, is nearly unusable on a mobile touchscreen. The screen elements are too small relative to the screen size to be reliably hit with a fat finger. A mouse is still the superior pointing device, even with desktops that have touchscreen ability.

      Mobile operating systems are built around the limitations of the devices upon which they run. They have less CPU power, less RAM, and a lot less storage than a desktop. Generally, they run a completely different architecture; ARM vs x86. If they ever did evolve to be as powerful as a desktop (which I doubt, as desktops don't hold still while mobiles keep getting better), a mobile OS would evolve right along with them, while still being optimized for the touch/small screen environment.

      Trying to converge them just for the sake of doing so won't serve either group as well as dedicated platform operating systems will. Microsoft has done a particularly shabby job of it, with desktops being exposed to the klunky mobile elements and (as I understand) mobile users sometimes being exposed to the touch-unfriendly desktop elements. If they ever fix this, so that mobile devices only see the mobile UI and desktop users only see the desktop UI, it will essentially be two operating system shells built on one kernel-- which is getting pretty close to having two separate operating systems (like PC Ubuntu and Android, both of which are built on the Linux kernel, but with very different UIs).

      I think Apple was right to say that there is no real value in convergence between mobiles and desktops. Data interoperability doesn't require it; the dissimilar platforms can already use the same file types. It sounds like what people need is better sync services.

      1. eesiginfo

        Where are we with flexi screens?

        >Mobile devices use touch screens that are much smaller than desktop screens<

        I appreciate what you say re large screen & small screen, but are we not close to the moment when a screen could be unfolded, from pocket size to a decent sized screen and virtual keyboard?

        In this mode, the phone would be the PC.

        It would be a full sized laptop in the pocket, obviating the need for an oversize phablet.

        Given that the phone was truly 'powerful' as a PC, I would definitely buy such a kit.

        Presumably, it would need a hydrogen fuel cell, but that's already on the horizon.

        Surely this potential is close to being realised...... or not?

      2. Vic

        Desktops (including traditional laptops) and mobile devices have different needs. Mobile devices use touch screens that are much smaller than desktop screens, so a different approach in UI design is required.

        Yes. But that doesn't mean you can't have the same OS underpinning both - just that the desktop/UI/shell probably wants to be different on each. That's not a difficult propositon...

        I think Apple was right to say that there is no real value in convergence between mobiles and desktops.

        I suspect this is correct - and it's why I don't see convergence as being very likely; the use case where my phone is going to have enough grunt to do the heavy lifting of my desktop without being bulky/power-hungry seems to be rather unlikely. Some people might benefit - but I suspect most will not want the compromise.


    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      @Dave 126

      As per my previous post, what you envisage wouldn't be my use case. Nevertheless it's not difficult to see that there are several different ways of using expansion of a phone.

      If you're targeting use at home or in an office you might have a docking unit permanently plugged in so if you need to revert to hand-held operation for some reason its simply a matter of picking it up from the dock.

      If you want to use it with an hotel TV you might need to carry an HDMI lead along with a bluetooth or USB keyboard.

      A business traveller, therefore, might pack a keyboard and lead for use in hotels but leave them in his luggage when returning to the office where a docking unit would be available.

      As to the trade-off between a computing stick and a phone, the former is dependant on having a TV or monitor available whilst the phone is usable within the limits of its interface at any time. As to one standing in for a missing other, well all you're saying is if you start with two devices, of whatever nature, and lose one you've got one left. That's just simple arithmetic. However, if one has your data on it and the other doesn't and you lose the one that has you effectively have nothing left. You might also end up with half your data on each device and become dependant on using both; you're going to need to keep them in sync.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Yes, I know, commenting on my own post & all that.

        I use a Mint netbook for visiting libraries and archives for research. As it happens I run Informix & a selection of its tools which enables me to knock up new data-taking forms as needed. It wouldn't, however, be difficult to implement something similar with a different RDBMS tool-set.

        I also carry a USB stick to which I can download images from the library's computer.

        So there I am, on the one hand collecting images on the stick & on the other taking notes and at some point the two have to be brought together.

        What would be ideal would be to have an arrangement where a USB lead would allow the netbook to present itself as mass storage in just the same way as the USB stick. An Android tablet would allow this but wouldn't, AFAIK, allow for a full-blown RDBMS tool-set to be installed. But if a Ubuntu tablet provided the mass-storage simulation via USB and an RDBMS then combining this with a Bluetooth keyboard would be a winner for me. OTOH maybe the same thing could run on my existing netbook.

  4. msknight

    For me, it was important to see Shuttleworth switch to different environments for desktop and mobile. They are fundamentally different ways of working.

    I use a bluetooth headset to connect to the mobile phones and the soft phone on the laptop. I can see the benefit in Motorola's idea for a mobile phone dock, but it just didn't work back then as the phone power wasn't too great.

    A single storage function for files is a good way forward, rather than carrying around a USB stick and then fighting to find a device at the other location that doesn't have its USB ports tied down... or tied down in a different manner than another site does. My only issue would be the separation between work and private files... or even files that apply to different clients, especially if the device is going to be attached to docking stations that are connected to different client networks.

    There's a lot of positive about this (as long as I'm not forced to use Unity in desk mode) but there are a lot of gotchas that are in the detail. Similar gotchas as to why BYOD doesn't work in a number of environments.

  5. adnim


    a ssh client on my rooted Android phone. Been there for a few years now. Of course this is not a simple point and click environment.

  6. AdamWill

    the problem with 'seamless' is that it never is

    We don't want the same interface on a phone as on a computer, right? So all these 'seamless' systems have to come up with some kind of clever software layer which knows or remembers what kind of layout we want for all sorts of things, and when.

    So instead of needing a clever software layer of some kind to share data between devices which have a simple time of deciding what interface they want to show you, you need a clever software layer to decide what interface to show you on top of data it has a simple time accessing.

    i.e. it's just a trade-off, and not a very obviously good one, since phone flash is not exactly renowned as the world's safest place to store all your data.

    1. nkuk

      Re: the problem with 'seamless' is that it never is

      I agree, initially it sounds like a good idea, you've got a phone in your pocket so it would be handy to be able to plug it in anywhere and work/play/surf/whatever, but the practicalities of it make it pretty pointless in my opinion.

      You would need keyboard, mouse, screen, a docking system and possibly storage in each location you want to use the desktop mode. If you have all that in place, computing power is very cheap so why not just have a Pi or USB stick already there for tasks that require the computing power available from a phone, then you don't have all the hassle of plugging in and out, having a single point of failure, wanting to use the phone/apps and the desktop mode both at the same time, and taking calls at the same time as using the desktop mode, and the limitation of having the same desktop/UI in every location.

      Plus, as you say, the UI would need to be different for each mode. Each mode would need to store the current system state when switching, so if all you are storing when moving from A to B is files and UI/application state that could be done via software and remote backup without having to have the same OS for everything and all the compromises of trying to do everything via one device.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: the problem with 'seamless' is that it never is

      "So all these 'seamless' systems have to come up with some kind of clever software layer which knows or remembers what kind of layout we want for all sorts of things, and when."

      If you're thinking in terms of a system that normally has a deep integration between the desktop and the rest of the OS then you'll undoubtedly need to think of some layer on top of that. However for any Unix-like system that's already a solved problem. The core OS is independent of the interface - it can even be run headless. The windowing system sits on top of that and the desktop, of which there is a choice, sits on top of the windowing system. There are even standards for storing info about desktop contents. It's possible to install several desktop packages on one device* & choose one at login. Swapping one for the other when connecting or disconnecting a docking unit wouldn't be a great step beyond this.

      *Providing you're not using a device whose vendor's walled garden prevents this.

  7. bombastic bob Silver badge

    Another one 'swallows the coolaid'

    Yet another corporate CEO going over the Lemming cliff along with microsoft, looks like.

    Funny how Apple isn't trying to converge THEIR stuff like that. I think the recognized the market a long time ago - there's PHONES, and there's PC/Desktop/Laptop, with slabs being an interesting fad and more like phones than PCs.

    But only MICROSOFT has really really really tried to "converge" them. At their own peril. Sinofsky's Cluster-Blank known as "Windows 8" totally *BLEW* it, primarily by turning desktops into glorified phone OS platforms.

    Meanwhile, Microsoft (believing their own hype) has forged ahead into phone-land merge with Continuum. Joy. Now Canonical wants on board, too.

    Thing is, Canonical might actually SUCCEED whereas, of course, Windows phone will be FAIL after FAIL after Win-10-nic FAIL.

    Intel's recent experiment is also interesting. I think Intel wants to sell CPUs. Perhaps they should back DESKTOP LINUX a bit more, seeing as Win-10-nic is *KILLING* new computer sales.

    Integrating phones with PCs always makes sense. but NOBODY is going to carry their phone around and expect to GET WORK DONE ON IT while waiting in a line, or on a bus or a train or an aircraft. That's what *NETBOOKS* are good for. Tiny, portable, DESKTOP computers with a small footprint. Most of them run a version of Linux from what I can tell.

    Then, there are the SLABS. It's a compromise for the 4" screen, but you're more likely to see a "convergence" with THESE than with a 4" phone. But we've already seen the slab trend. They're good for CONTENT CONSUMPTION, but not CONTENT CREATION. So they're oversized phones, with phone OSs on them. Good for those who want them.

    The problem with the PC market is that people don't view it as a DERIVATIVE. They view it as an INTEGRAL. New PC sales are a DIFFERENTIAL in the PC market. Some are replacements, many are new purchases. That's the point.

    So when you look at desktop GROWTH, people are still buying desktop computers. They're often replacing old ones, but also buying new ones. But, of course, with Microsoft releasing a *GARBAGE* CLUSTER-BLANK of an OS to replace Windows 7 (or even XP), can you BLAME people for *NOT* buying a new computer with "Ape" (8) or Win-10-nic on it?

    At least you can get 7 Pro until September or so, from what I read from the last 'The Register' article that mentioned it.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Another one 'swallows the coolaid'

      Hi bombastic bob!

      Thankyou for making a reasoned argument (though capitals are hard to parse!). You mentioned Apple as having not followed the same path as MS and Ubuntu... they would rather sell you additional hardware. As such, they have provided a software solution that (in concept at least, I haven't used it myself) is sensible: open documents on your iPhone are open when you turn on your Mac. Straightforward enough, I reckon.

      A small point: Canonical have been advocating Desktop/Mobile OS on a phone for longer than MS have (although in reality, both organisations would have been exploring the concept long before any public announcement).

      Without Apple, my experience of Android+Chromecast (i.e, the same as iOs/Android + Chromecast/Playstation/Whatever) informs my opinion here.... attempts to reuse a phone's CPU are more effort than they are worth.

  8. Colin Tree

    geto blaster

    Or walking around with a geto blaster sized pc gaffer taped to the side of your head.

    It's a better format for the aging population, just can't read those small screens.

    Once we get octa-core A72s in a phone,

    all I need is a large screen, external storage, keyboard and mouse

    and a trustworthy operating system.

    Ubuntu - no thank you

    "...advantages of Ubuntu over Google's Android..."

    Mark Shuttleworth gets all the money

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Don't want

    Do everything...

    Fail to do anything properly.

  10. goldcd

    I agree about the convergence - just not the Ubuntu bit

    MS seem to be the closest to actually managing to pull something together that the public might actually want.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I agree about the convergence - just not the Ubuntu bit

      Or Google, or Apple. In very different ways. It depends on what you want.

      Google sell you low-priced hardware to sell you video content. Could be used with phone and TV (beta) for office-like tasks with keyboard and mouse

      Apple, the above but pricier.

      Google: use services (email, document creation / sharing) across platforms: PC, Mac, *nix... Android, iOS.

      Apple: Doesn't matter, above applies (for GMail users). Or: Continuity, their iOS/OSX integration.

      The Ubuntu/MS concepts just seem to be based around re-purposing a phone's CPU. But why? Just buy another CPU in a stick, they are not that pricey.

  11. RichardB


    what we need is better magical connectivity.

    so I don't need to take my phone out of my pocket, or off the charger, but can turn on the wirefree monitor, keyboard and mouse and easily select my phone as the compute source and then login securely, with a notification to the phone.

    Same for the tv. Chrome cast almost achieves this for the tv, but the keyboard/mouse/joypad/stick whatnot is absent still, without faffing with bluetooth.

    The bigger question though, is why are phones still so storage limited?

  12. Roland6 Silver badge

    So when will we actually be able to purchase a real product?

    Trying not to be a killjoy, but Ubuntu have been working on converged workstation/smartphone for some years now and although we have seen some good demo's, they've all been for R&D purposes and not for sale.

    So whilst I can see a niche and use cases for these devices, I'm not holding my breathe or getting excited - perhaps I've just been in the industry for too many decades...

  13. nijam Silver badge

    Personally I think it's a crazy idea, because - notwithstanding what a few commentards have said - I believe not many people actually want to use their phone as a computer. A web browser, yes; an email terminal, yes; I'll concede that, but a computer? No.

    Of course, Shuttleworth's view is what was behind the misguided alterations that he had his team start making to Ubuntu a few years back.

    Convergence is too much like trying to make toast in a kettle. It always comes out soggy and disappointing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really don't see anything newsworthy here, unless just getting Mark to repeat what he's been saying for years is news.

    As others here have so much more ably argued, efforts to achieve convergence really makes no sense. In fact they seem to have resulted in regressions of usability for plain old productivity desktop systems.

    The one benefit I could see in owning a Ubuntu phone is that it would get regular security updates -- unless Shuttleworth cedes that to the discretion of carriers or manufacturers, in which case all bets would be off.

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