Over the last few years, there have been several releases of mobile phones designed with open-source operating systems: Mozilla, Canonical, Samsung, and Jolla to name a few companies that have ventured into that industry. Their operating systems aim to break through the global dominance of Android and iOS — although Android has been their biggest challenge as phones based on it are the most popular in countries in which those companies have targeted customers. But none of these companies has been successful on a large scale; they have seen success with niche groups of customers, but nothing that can make a dent in Android’s global presence. Still, they haven’t thrown in the towel, and in some cases, have done quite the opposite.
U.K.-based Canonical released its second Ubuntu phone this week, available in Europe and based on a Chinese-only Android device released last September. The Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition takes Meizu’s MX4 phone and replaces Android with Canonical’s open-source Ubuntu operating system. The process through which to buy one of these phones is also exclusive and somewhat vague. It is invitation-only, and Canonical has not discussed how many phones are available nor who will be able to obtain one. In fact, CNET quotes a Canonical spokesperson as being deliberately vague: “The number is ultimately insignificant…Most people who go [to the website] will be able to get an invite, and those that can’t will be able to the second time around.”
But exclusivity has historically been Canonical’s thing. Its first devices were initially available only through online flash sales. And while the company reported that it sold out quickly, its shrouding of facts regarding how many phones were made and available keeps its relative success a mystery. Clearly, though, the company has achieved enough profit in order to launch a second round of devices. It also revealed earlier this year that it will offer the core version of its Ubuntu operating system for the internet of things, and it has some hefty partners on board to distribute Ubuntu on their hardware. Dell is one tech giant that sells PCs and laptops with Ubuntu preinstalled.
Canonical continues its campaign for its alternative operating system along with companies like Jolla — a Finland-based company which has also launched a second device running its homegrown operating system dubbed Sailfish. For these companies, perhaps it is not so much about making a dent in Android, but more about creating alternatives to Google’s globally popular operating system so customers can have options outside of the duopoly of Android and iOS. If they’re in the club.