Android is taking the world by storm. 300000 devices are being activated daily since December 2010, yet a tightly integrated ecosystem is sorely lacking in the Android arena. I believe strongly that Desktop Linux in general, and Canonical and Ubuntu in particular, are well placed to become key players in this ecosystem, and to become the Operating System partners of choice for the Android environment.

I am sitting here at home, working on a tiny Sony laptop with the beta version of Ubuntu Natty Narwhal, slated for release in the coming month running on it. Recently I bought myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab to replace my cellphone – yeah, I use it as a cellphone as well – and I am thoroughly enjoying the Android Experience.

Being a tech geek I fiddled a lot with getting my Android Tablet to work with My Ubuntu/Linux Mint installs. There are many apps in the Andoid Market that cater for Ubuntu users, there are apps for controlling your media players from your Android Device, Apps for streaming your music to your Android Device and even an app that allows you to control your Ubuntu Desktop from your Android Device, including moving your mouse by tilting your phone.

Note that I said “Ubuntu” a lot here, I am not biased toward Ubuntu, it is just that I used Ubuntu and Linux Mint a lot lately. If there is a bias I definitely lean more towards Linux Mint. I am sure you can get all the mentioned apps to work on other Linux distros besides Mint and Ubuntu.

This brings me to the killer feature that I talked about in the heading…

When you look at the Apple mobile products a few things stand out. For one, taken in isolation none of the Apple mobile products are the undisputed leaders in their categories any more. Sure they where at one stage, but there are now strong contenders out there that are either better than the equivalent Apple items, or come very close to matching or bettering their Apple counterparts.

But Apple products are not functioning in isolation, are they?

There is an ecosystem that encompasses the Apple Experience.

If you are an Apple user, and you have your iPod, iPad, iPhone and MacBook – then you will be very certain that your Apple provided Applications will work together with each other very well. Your Music will stream between your devices, you can use your iPod as an iTunes remote with the Remote app and since the Apple TV has been released you can use your iDevices as remotes for that too.

You will be able so seamlessly sync your devices with each other, contacts, music et al.

No other computing ecosystem such as this exists at the moment.

I believe that Desktop Linux and Android have an opportunity to become exactly such an ecosystem, and since it is an Open Source environment, it can better the Apple ecosystem by allowing a larger pool of developers in to take advantage of it.

Since Android is at its core a Linux OS, albeit very highly customized, and since it is moving to having the applications on it using HTML5, it will make it easier to build apps that work with your Linux Desktop as well as your Android Device.

Canonical, since they have worked closely with Google in the past on Android related projects, can use the Ubuntu Desktop OS to give Desktop Linux a push ahead of the competition. Do not think that Microsoft is not aware of the advantage in having a closely integrated ecosystem for your devices. Windows Phone 7 and the Windows 7 Operating system will be capable of integrating very well.

If Microsoft does not make it possible for you to do simple things like syncing your contacts and media libraries between Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 then they have lost the plot worse than I thought.

But why not other vendors? Why am I singling out Canonical? Surely other Operating System vendors have worked closely with Google on Android projects?

Well let me run through the major players here:

  • Apple – Won’t put effort into letting Android Devices work seamlessly with their devices. Android is their largest competitor in the mobile arena. If there is going to be Android MacOS integration in the future the push will have to come from Google and App developers.
  • Microsoft – can’t do it at the moment. They are pushing to make their Windows Phone 7 OS relevant to the masses. They can not allow Andoid to be better suited as a Windows 7 desktop compantion than Phone 7 will be. If Phone 7 tanks in a year or two they might want to look at Android compatibility in order to stay competitive with Apple. Their continued war with Google in the search engine arena will continue to be a problem though since Android Devices are heavy Google Product centric.
  • Novell – they have too many ties with Microsoft at the moment. For them to put any large scale effort behind Android would rock the bed they share with Microsoft, and that could sour the relationship.
  • Canonical – have worked with Google on quite a few projects, and vice versa. The two have had their spats in the past – Ubuntu dropping the Google search engine a while back for one beta release of Lucid Lynx (10.04) last year is an example of this.

If Canonical, or another Linux Vendor, manage to allow their desktop and Android Devices to do a few simple things there might just be a chance that Desktop Linux can move ahead in the desktop wars. It is a slim chance, I’ll admit that linux on the desktop is perennially playing catch up, but I believe it is the best placed to work with Android devices on a large scale by design, due to its loose allegiances that has prevented it from being aligned too closely with the other players in the market.

Here are some basic features that I want to see Android Devices and Desktop Linux do seamlessly in the near future:

  1. Sync calendar and contacts and e-mail between the desktop and the Android Device.
    This is a no-brainer, and possibly the hardest one to get right properly. When you are on the same wireless network as your desktop, or paired them via Bluetooth, your contacts, calendar and email accounts should sync. Android is behind in the business arena, at least in South Africa where BlackBerry and iDevices dominate, and if your Android Device can handle your basic business communication needs  it can give Android a nice push there. I realize that Android syncs your Google contacts and your Phone contacts and your Facebook contacts etc. I also know that you can have your Evolution calendar or Sunbird sync with Google calendar and thus have your Android device sync with your calendar. These are contrived ways of doing it though. It should be seen as a first positive stepping stone in the right direction, rather than a “good enough” solution.
  2. Sync your documents.
    Right now there is little support for the Open Document Standard on Android, and at best an average document editing suite. If Android is going to move into the Tablet arena aggressively (it already has) it will need to be able to provide Tablet users proper office productivity tools. Moreover these tools should sync with your documents on your chosen work computer with ease. Currently you have Zumodrive and Dropbox support for Android and Linux, surely Ubuntu One should also be provided as an option to those Ubuntu users who would like their computers and mobile devices synced? Ubuntu One might be a tool to allow users to sync their calendars and contacts with their Android devices as well.
  3. MEDIA!
    With the many Linux media center flavors out there one should be able to not only transfer media between your Linux desktop/media center with ease, you should be able to integrate your Android device into your media center setup. Use it as a remote to control your media center from our couch, or buy music on your Android device and play it on your Media center and vice versa. The possibilities are endless.

In the end I want computing utopia, and I want my Android device to be an integral part of this. It is a tall order, and it will be very hard to attain this, but I am very sure that a foundation exists for Google and a Linux partner to create an ecosystem second to none, and one that will allow the everyday user to have all his computing needs catered for whether he flips open his notebook, goes to sit at his desk or takes his Android Tablet/Smart-phone on the plane.

Google loves boasting about the three hundred THOUSAND Android devices that are activated DAILY worldwide. Imagine if desktop Linux, and maybe Ubuntu in particular, can tap into that market as the operating system companion of choice for each and every one of those devices.

It should be done, and soon. The window of opportunity is closing fast.

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