There is now a fourth player in the smartphone arena (and it's not RIM).
Today at 12:00PM CST, Canonical released a video recognizing the past, and announcing the future of Ubuntu. The future as proposed by Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth, is for Ubuntu to be a universal computing platform. Recognizing apps, content, and data as being universal, with customized interfaces for different form factors like Tablets, TVs, Phones, and Desktops.
This news is exciting, because being Linux and open source-based, multiple architecture and multiple device application development will be an easier dream to achieve. This would be a strong message to Apple, Microsoft, and Google that they have failed to unify all of the devices of a user. Ubuntu is a platform that I have used every day of my life for the last 4 years in the desktop space, taking that level of capability, stability, and power to other devices may be a winning combination.
In late 2012, Ubuntu TV was announced as the first extension to the Desktop Ubuntu experience. Shortly thereafter, Ubuntu for Android was announced. Ubuntu 12.10 was heavily optimized for touch and tablet interfaces. Now to complete the specturm, Ubuntu for phones is here.
The biggest and most exciting accomplishment has been the promotion of web applications as true applications. I've been predicting this from Google's Android for a while, but it looks like Ubuntu may beat them too it. Apps built using HTML5 for iOS and Android will work perfectly on this device.
Finally, Ubuntu has been working on intelligent and context-based menus for more than a year now. On Ubuntu phone they are exposing all of these interfaces via phone commands. Surpassing even Google's voice capabilities.
Support for Android-designed hardware is a part of the plan. This is a huge deal and something neither Microsoft or Apple could ever replicate. This means that any Android phone (and there are a ton of great ones) should be able to run Ubuntu. This means that all of the great Android hardware I've acquired should work very well with this new exciting mobile operating system.
The biggest challenge facing them is a lack of expeirence with heavy cloud applications. Historically they have relied on third parties, which could result in a fragmented or broken experience. This is exacerbated by the fact that the major service providers also have their own mobile platforms, so support may be slow coming or completely missing.
As of 1:00PM CST, their app development website is offline due to heavy load. This in interesting sign of the level of interest around developing for this platform.
Currently there's no plans for wearable computing, which will be an area for Google to innovate and easily exceed the capabilities of Apple, Microsoft, and Ubuntu.