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Over the past couple of years there has been talk of mobile-desktop convergence from various mobile and desktop OS providers. As a general concept, this sounds fantastic! Unfortunately once we dive into things a bit deeper, it appears this is easier said than done.
In this article I'll examine the areas that need to come together in order for Linux Mobile-Desktop convergence to be widely accepted.
Natural vs Forced Convergence
Looking at Microsoft's direction for Windows 10, it's clear that their vision for desktop convergence feels forced. Windows 10 is reverting back to Windows 7 elements while still trying to force tiles down the throats of end users.
To make matters more challenging, Microsoft's own COO recently confirmed that the rumors of Windows 10 being free, are incorrect. OEMs for example, are still asked to pay for licenses come 2015. Microsoft's competition doesn't have this type of thing in effect.
Now take all of the above, and introduce the idea of this same experience into the already failed Windows Phone space – it's not going to work. First off, it's an iOS/Android world. Anything other OS is just trying to hang on at this point. Google and Apple have thus far been successful because their convergence efforts have by and large been highly unobtrusive. No one gives a second thought to the underpinnings of document, picture and music mobility between mobile and desktop, because it feels natural.
Perhaps even more important, Google and Apple have had success with their seamless experience because the blend between platforms isn't dependent on mirroring the UI between desktop and mobile. Instead, it simply makes using devices between mobile and desktop fluid and easy. Nothing more, nothing less.
Windows, sadly, isn't going to be able to share this experience as it would mean users leaving Android and iOS ecosystems and starting over with something new, and frankly, unproven.
For quite sometime now, the Ubuntu team has been hard at work on what is known as the Ubuntu phone. The idea is that you can share similar user experiences between the phone and your desktop, thanks to the Unity desktop. It's an idea that feels similar to the Windows 10 concept, except that Ubuntu tackled this concept first, based on my memory of recent events.
Like with Windows 10, Ubuntu would face many of the same challenges, which include breaking users away from existing ecosystems. In addition, the Ubuntu team must also edge the Ubuntu Phone into an already crowded marketplace. And let's be honest, this is no simple feat. If successful, the Ubuntu phone will be among the first platforms to successfully bring a unified, convergence-centric user experience to desktop/mobile users.
Personally, as much as I'd be excited to see Ubuntu make this happen, I think there are underlying issues not being addressed. First, who is buying these phones? Considering people are already married to iOS/Android app marketplaces, Ubuntu would need to address this early on or face the same challenges that Microsoft has dealt with. Second, what is the specific advantage to using an Ubuntu phone and the Ubuntu desktop, combined? After all, ideally this would be the perfect situation for Ubuntu to make a solid case for convergence.
Now this might seem like I'm bringing up old projects in place of the Ubuntu phone, but I still believe the old Ubuntu for Android project holds far more longtail value, overall. For my money, I think it would be far more fascinating to have this level of integration with the Ubuntu experience.
Imagine having unified contacts, answering calls from the desktop, desktop applications and a full computer, on your phone. Obviously, this presents challenges of its own. And of course, this project appears to be all but dead at this point. It's too bad, really. My phone has specs that could likely get the job done. At the end of the day, the current Ubuntu phone project boasts features such as speed, no Java overhead and the freedom to develop apps for a brand new platform. Unfortunately, I'm concerned this isn't the path to convergence that the developers are anticipating. It simply has failed to show me how it's going to blur the lines between my desktop and my mobile usage.
Convergence vs Blurring Platform Lines
These days, I've come to rely on Android apps that give me wireless, simple to use access to my Linux desktop....and vice versa. When I need a no-frills way to access and use my desktop on the go, I run Splashtop on my phone. And if I need to charge my phone for a bit, I've been known to run the Airdroid app that gives me full access to my phone from the comfort of my Linux desktop. Both solutions allow me to access the stuff I need, to get through my workday. And while it may not be "true convergence" in the eyes of today's tech visionaries, it sure comes pretty close.
Quite frankly, Google appears to be the most likely candidate to bring forth seamless desktop to mobile convergence. The approach they take, however, won't be to "blend" Android and ChromeOS into one thing. No, they'll wisely keep them separate....while allowing you to run Chrome apps on Android and Android apps under Chrome. Application unification rather than desktop convergence – this is the future I'm banking on.
Linux Desktop-Mobile Going Forward
The key takeaway is this – we use applications, not desktops. This is something I feel like today's developers seem to have lost sight of. Granted, a decent desktop environment can enhance the access to said applications. However, no one actually sits down at a computer to use a desktop environment, they're sitting there to use an application, play a game or accomplish a task.
To make matters worse, is the idea that anyone is going to dump their existing financial investment in Android or iOS to jump ship to another platform all in the name of convergence. It's complete nonsense, and it's not going to happen.
Jolla is rocking things with Android app compatibility on Sailfish and offers an amazing user experience. Keep in mind, the link provided is a partial list and is growing all the time. Then we have Google's Android proper. Sure, it's not going to provide me with true "convergence" between the desktop and mobile device, but it's going to offer me the application experience I'm looking for overall. The key to 2015 won't be the buzzword convergence, it's going to be application unification. That's the phrase to watch for, mark my words.