The Ubuntu M10: The Tablet of the Future

convergenceI remember some years ago that Ubuntu was talking about “convergence”, the idea more recently made possible by Windows Phone’s “Continuum” technology that turns your phone into a (more or less) full-fledged desktop once you connect to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Ubuntu was planning this sort of thing back during the Galaxy Nexus days, and they even tried out a $32 million dollar crowdfund (which didn’t make its funding) to create the Ubuntu Edge smartphone which would achieve this “convergence” in 2013.

Now, in the attempt to run a full version of Ubuntu on a mobile device that can “simply” plug in to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and become a full Ubuntu PC, Canonical is working with mobile manufacturer BQ (of Spain, and who have worked with Mozilla recently on Firefox OS, as well) to have their Aquaris M10 tablet make the dream come true.

Being released in Q2 of 2016 (with no word on price), the newly-named “Ubuntu M10” is unimpressive hardware with a very impressive idea, in my opinion. Let’s go over the specs:

  • 1.5GHz quad-core MediaTek MT8163A processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 7280mAh non removable battery
  • 16GB onboard storage with MicroSD card slot
  • Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth
  • Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer
  • 8MP rear camera, 3MP front camera
  • 10.10-inch display with a 1920×1200 resolution
  • Micro HDMI port

portait-multiple-1Again, not a powerhouse, but not terrible. But what excites me about this isn’t the hardware. It’s the form factor and convergence capability. At the Dark Android Project, tablets are our “tool of choice”, and to have one that is running a more complete version of Linux than Android (in this case, Ubuntu Touch) and that can connect to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and become a traditional desktop…well…that’s a dream come true.

Having more pocketable form factors for our devices that can adapt to any usage situation is really where I’ve wanted the future of the computing industry to go. Personally, I carry around a small pouch that is loaded with a bluetooth speaker, a portable keyboard, and a mouse, along with other peripherals I need for ASUS Zenfone 2 so that if I need to get seriously prodcutive, I can do so from my phone. But there are limits to how productive I can get with my smartphone. The Ubuntu M10 solves these issues.

First off, when I want to record and edit an episode of my science and tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, that’s practically impossible to do with Android in any meaningful way (especially when there is as much production as goes into a podcast like my show has). But Ubuntu, on the other hand, can run Audacity (my favorite sound software that I use to make my podcasts). So that problem is solved. Then there’s the issue of having enough screen real estate when it’s needed. The Ubuntu has the advantage of a 10″ screen for one, and that screen can also use “Side Stage” which allows you to open multiple apps on it. But then with the ability to connect any HDMI monitor means that I can easily have all the screen real estate I could ever need. And, just like my current Android device-based setup, everything except for the monitor could easily fit in the same 11″ bag I’m using now. And if I wanted to be really saucy, I could toss in a small projector to have a portable screen with me, as well.

SIDE NOTE 1: Yes, with Chromecast or a special HDMI cable you can run apps on a screen from your Android device, however Android is not yet ready to be used in a desktop environment, or at least great options like Remix OS have yet to become widespread.

SIDE NOTE 2: It will be interesting to see if Ubuntu Touch and the ARM-processor from MediaTek can handle any Ubuntu-compatible games.

With our computers/devices becoming more and more the stores of all of our possessions, the more portable they become, and the more adaptable they become, the freer we become by default, in my opinion. The old quandary of, “What do you grab if you’re running out of a burning building?”, becomes a very simple one to solve when everything you own and need (minus food, etc.) is in a simple pocketable device since, obviously, you just grab your mobile device. I’ve said it many times in the past: Your computer is your only country. And the Ubuntu M10 tablet is very much a real PC, more so than maybe any other mobile device.

Ironically, though, I do still wish that this Ubuntu convergence strategy was available in a smartphone form factor, as it has been planned to be for years. Maybe if the M10 is successful, it will be. Also, I’d like to have all of this on significantly more powerful hardware. To some degree, this is already possible. Many mobile devices (like my own ASUS Zenfone 2 Android smartphone that has 4GB of RAM) are based on Intel Atom processors, and you can load Ubuntu onto those devices with little effort. Hell, you can load Windows 7 on those devices if you were so inclined. But all of this has some degree of bugs and quirks when you do get it up-and-running, so having a devices that has all of those solved and done out of gate–like the Ubuntu M10–is still important.

In the end, having non-Alphabet/Google-controlled Linux (which Android is becoming more and more Alphabet/Google-controlled) on mobile devices is a win for everyone, whether they realize it or not. I can see the M10 having a lot of practical use with its convergence ability. Ubuntu was already available for the Dark Android Project favorite–the 2013 Nexus 7–but I think readers of this blog can recognize that the Ubuntu M10 is a whole other animal, and a very exciting one.

I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on these kinds of devices and developments at the Dark Android Project.

Carpe lucem!