Had enough of Android? First 'Focal' based Ubuntu Touch is out

The UBPorts project has just released the fruit of a lot of labor, especially for a volunteer group, emitting a fresh version of its smartphone OS - which includes the Lomiri UI, formerly known as Unity 8.

Ubuntu Touch OTA-1 Focal is a major step for the community-driven UBports project: it's the first version of the smartphone OS based on Ubuntu 20.04 "Focal Fossa." All of its previous releases were based on Ubuntu 16.04 "Xenial Xerus." As we pointed out when we covered OTA-24 last November, Ubuntu 16.04 was the last LTS release before Canonical cancelled its convergence project.

One of the significant changes in this version is a change of name, although this is a bigger deal than it sounds. The original name for Ubuntu's touch-driven UI was "Unity 8." Now, though, it has been renamed to Lomiri. OTA-1 Focal is the first version to use Lomiri, and as a result, a lot of components have had to be changed to reflect the new name.

The upside of this is a reduction in dependence upon Ubuntu components, and as we reported back in February, Lomiri is more distro-independent - it also runs on Debian, as well as on postmarketOS, the FOSS OS for smartphones abandoned by their vendors.

There are other changes too. Whereas the Xenial version used Canonical's upstart init system, the Focal version uses systemd. It has also replaced the old Ubuntu Indicators with ones from Ayatana. The now-deprecated Anbox has been replaced with Waydroid.

As we covered a year ago while introducing the Armbian project, one problem with the SoC hardware in many phones and tablets is the lack of device drivers. Fondleslab vendors are at the mercy of the SoC manufacturers, and once those upstream companies stop updating their Android image, then the phone makers can't do much about it. This is why niche market hardware such as Planet Computers' PDAs are stuck on old versions of Android.

If you're replacing the whole OS, a partial way around this is to run an Android subsystem in a container, allowing vendor-specific drivers to execute in that environment. Waydroid runs a LineageOS image based on Android 11. Ubuntu Touch also uses the Mir display server, which is still being supported and developed by Canonical.

For now, the new version supports a smaller list of devices than before: just the Fairphone 4, Google Pixel 3A, and three models of Vollaphone. If you're running Ubuntu Touch on any of the other supported devices, there's also a final update to the Xenial version, OTA-25. ®

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