UBports, which took over the maintenance of the Ubuntu Touch mobile operating system after Canonical abandoned it, has released OTA-18 with many improvements, but it’s still based on the old Ubuntu 16.04.
According to the team, one of the big changes in this release is a rewritten media hub service that is responsible for media playback and control. “20,526 lines of code later the new media hub was created – with better tests, a more contribution-friendly structure and some fixed bugs for booting.” said the post that introduces the publication.
The operating system update also improves efficiency. “We still have a lot of people using devices with as little as 1 GB of RAM,” the team explained. “OTA-18 almost always feels faster than OTA-17 on the same device.”
Other fixes include the on-screen keyboard auto-showing in new browser tabs, a degree icon on the on-screen keyboard, stickers added to the messaging app, snooze now works as expected in alarms, and “call audio has been fixed on Google Pixel 2.”
That doesn’t sound like much, but the team said, “There are a lot of fixes that cost little code but will have a big impact in practice.”
There are a couple of catches. Only 54 devices support Ubuntu Touch and only 28 of them support OTA-18. That includes Fairphone 2, but not PinePhone. According to a post in the PinePhone support forum: “Unfortunately, booting UT and booting Pinephone / Pinetab is on the line until after the 20.04 upgrade.”
Then what about Ubuntu Touch based on Ubuntu 20.04? It looks like progress is being made, and in fact, the limited number of new features in OTA-18 is in part due to “the small team of people who know the internals of Ubuntu Touch doing other things than OTA-18” , most of it depends on 04/20.
That includes work Lomiri, the “convergence desktop” originally called Unity until Canonical abandoned it. However, there will be another OTA-19 based on 04/16 before we get a 04/20 release. Further information on development progress can be found in these questions and answers.
On the plus side, Ubuntu Touch users on the stable channel get OTA-18 on compatible devices by simply “using the” Updates “screen of the System Preferences”.
However, it sounds like an uphill battle. Ubuntu Touch by UBports is one of several ways to run a free operating system on a smartphone, but all of them have catches. One approach is to build a phone on top of AOSP (Android Open Source Project). In this case, there is an issue with Google’s proprietary Play Services not being available – see how the / e / Foundation works around this problem here. Another approach (as with Ubuntu Touch) is to base the operating system on Linux and rely on the Linux application ecosystem.
There is a lot of interest in the idea of a phone free from Google or Apple and the different ways they restrict, track and control smartphones, but translating that interest into a viable alternative is problematic. ®