Story 2014-09-16 2SEW What's next for tablets running Linux?

What's next for tablets running Linux?

in linux on (#2SEW)
story imagePut aside the "Android is based on Linux" argument for a second, and let's look at the state of tablet hardware running the Linux operating system instead of Android. And it doesn't look good.

Network World reports Ubuntu Touch might be our last and best hope for tablets running Linux:
Canonical says that they expect Ubuntu Touch-powered tablets to start shipping in the second half of this year. When I took Ubuntu Touch for a spin on my Nexus 7 last October, it definitely had promise (if it was a bit on the buggy side). And it has certainly improved a great deal since then. Unfortunately, the ability to run traditional Linux desktop software isn't the focus of Ubuntu Touch. In theory, this will be possible, but I've yet to see this actually happen. So I'm not holding my breath.
Not too long ago, Aaron Seigo and a group of KDE hackers was making a big splash about the upcoming Vivaldi tablet, which was to be a Linux tablet running a customized version of the KDE Plasma environment (KDE4 reconfigured in ways that make sense for a tablet). I was looking forward to that device, as KDE4 was rejiggered specifically to permit this kind of innovation in interfaces and avoid the whole "if Gnome3 is good enough for a tablet it's good enough for your desktop" attitude. Unfortunately, when the Vivaldi tablet project met with a lack of supporters willing to put up cold hard cash, it bit the dust:
Announcing the ‘wrap up’ in an e-mail sent to backers of the Improv ARM-based development board the team suggests that the FOSS community is ‘not ready’ to put its weight behind the ‘pressing issue of hardware freedom’, adding: “We greatly appreciate everyone’s support, whether it was purchases, donations or words of wisdom and encouragement. There was simply not enough support to make the project work, despite having fully functional, production ready devices and a strong commitment to succeed.”
Well, there's still the Pengpod, currently in crowd funding. But it's barely there as a product, reliant on going from crowd-funding to crowd-funding to push out new versions of their interesting product. What is there to do if you want Linux apps on tablet hardware? For the moment, it seems the answer is "be patient."
Reply 29 comments

If you call it by the right name... (Score: 2, Funny)

by on 2014-09-16 12:54 (#2SF3)

There can be no confusion possible if you call it by the right name: GNU/Linux. :)

Crap (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-16 14:22 (#2SF6)

I live in hope that Android for tablet / TV can one day be fixed so it works far better than it does today. Please don't crush my hopes :( Linux will make it! Can we do it! Yes! We can!

Bodhi (Score: 2, Interesting)

by on 2014-09-16 14:35 (#2SFA)

I was reminded to write this piece by the article on Bodhi Linux earlier. I got thinking about how sweet it would be to have Bodhi running on a tablet because the tablet profile configuration looked so interesting. There's no easy win here - you get the distro working on the hardware and you've still got a mess of apps to fix up. Most Linux apps were written for keyboards and mice or even for consoles. But I love the idea of it, and if I could run my favorite Linux apps on tablet hardware I'd have hit nerd-vana. Even a tablet from which I could do some console/ssh work would be sweetness itself.

Sadly, it doesn't look like we're headed there quite yet. That leaves me with ChromeOS and Android - not bad, but not quite nerd-vana, either.

But But KDE! Re: Bodhi (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-16 16:38 (#2SFE)

The Plasma Active project didn't die with that hardware project, did it? According to the project site you can get it running on a nifty new Nexus tablet. That should be more than enough of a modern slate experience, no?

Also, as to your last point, you could certain run console/ssh sessions on any ordinary tablet already, as I'm sure you know. For a name brand, the HP models are dirt cheap (rebranded clones).

You headed us off at the pass on the Android issue, but by the time one rewrites the interface and applications for tablet operation ("oh here's my favorite application running but gee you know I'd really like it to be optimized for this interface"), as KDE and Microsoft and others have done, perhaps in the end you really are better off just saving the effort and using Android / AOSP anyway?

Re: But But KDE! Re: Bodhi (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-16 17:36 (#2SFJ)

You make good points. Yes, I do console work from Android all the time, and iOS as well - it's great. Maybe it's just geek attachment to certain apps that aren't available on iOS or Android. In my case, that would be console apps (SLRN, Mutt, IRSSI, alpine, kismet). No android equivalent, though I can shell into a server where I have those things running. It's made my Nexus 7 the best weapon in my toolbox.

Just not preloaed... (Score: 2, Interesting)

by on 2014-09-17 04:29 (#2SG1)

I don't understand the pessimism in the summary. It even mentioned that the Nexus 7 can be re-purposed by anyone who wants to. Just buy one, and install Linux on it.

As long as the tablet hardware is open, those who are interested in Linux will be able to install and use it. And supporting open hardware is a far more important goal than (locked-down) Linux preloaded on a tablet.

In addition, there are convertible x86 laptops that can look and work an awful lot like a tablet.

Personally, I'm happy to skip the fad... I always get my phone with a hardware keyboard, and I'm hardly going to be interested in a bigger and more expensive device without one. Chromebooks look like a good source of cheap laptop hardware for Linux aficionados to me.

Re: Just not preloaed... (Score: 1, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-17 04:59 (#2SG2)

Because "open hardware" means ZIPPO and won't EXIST for long if not enough of it is sold to keep the company in business.

And unless you get very lucky as to right place / right time / right niche (Raspberry Pi) you end up like Maemo/Meego/blabla or Tizen.

The rest of us hope that a successful commercialized platform will still allow enough freedom for the tinkerers among us to continue doing their thing. This is why, despite its decline into evil, Google and Android are still so, so, so much preferable to Apple or Microsoft. And of course your Nexus 7 example proves that point.

There is very little incentive for manufacturers to make their "tablet hardware open" except that they want to take advantage of Google's ecosystem and market, and the cost of rolling their own is too high / doomed. It's a lucky and convenient accident that we're not more locked up than we already are.

So if a platform were commercialized that WERE entirely open by design and in practice, it would be a really nice place to start and to maintain.

Re: Just not preloaed... (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-17 06:55 (#2SG4)

Open hardware doesn't mean project boards, it means stuff like the Nexus 7... You might notice the Nexus 7 has sold pretty well.

It can still come with Android, it just needs to have documentation so a non-proprietary Linux kernel can be bootstrapped, and drivers for video/wifi/etc. can be written.

Nothing about Android forces OEMs to be "open", they're allowed to keep the specs secret, and depending on binary-blob drivers, but as long as there are manufacturers of open hardware, the community can unite behind their devices as a platform, and provide Linux and perhaps other OSes for it.

The Nexus 7 absolutely already exists, and it is a nice place to start...

Re: Just not preloaed... (Score: 2, Informative)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-17 13:25 (#2SGT)

You mean the same Nexus 7 over which the maintainer of the Android Open Source Project quit in protest due to unreleased proprietary blobs? That Nexus 7?

"Jean-Baptiste Quéru is a software engineer who had until recently been in charge of the AOSP project. But in a Google+ Post, he says “there’s no point being the maintainer of an Operating System that can’t boot to the home screen on its flagship device for lack of GPU support.”

Translation: Google can’t release the full source code or factory image for the new Nexus 7, because it includes proprietary binaries related to Qualcomm’s Adreno graphics core.

This doesn’t appear to be a new problem. Google never released a factory image for the first member of the Nexus family, the Google Nexus One. That phone also had a Qualcomm processor.

There are images for the Qualcomm-powered Nexus 4 smartphone, but it took a while for those to be released, and Quéru has suggested he’s not sure the issues will be resolved at all for the new Nexus 7 tablet.

Independent developers can still take advantage of the proprietary blobs to included hardware-accelerated video and graphics support in custom ROMs for the Nexus 7 and other tablets. But since Google doesn’t officially have support to distribute those blobs, the company can’t offer factory image downloads.

It’s not clear why Qualcomm is being more protective over its intellectual property than Samsung, NVIDIA, or Texas Instruments. Those companies made the chips found in other Nexus devices. But it’s also not clear why Google would continue to work with a company that has a poor track record of working with the Android Open Source Project."

Re: Just not preloaed... (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-17 15:14 (#2SH5)

Interesting indeed. I've got a Nexus 7 and didn't know any of that stuff. Android is cool and all, but stuff like this makes a good reminder that other solutions ought to be possible, if not recommended! Too much of what makes Android Android is not available for the curious to poke around with, and I hate that. Dalvek - I'm looking at you.

Re: Just not preloaed... (Score: 1, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-17 23:10 (#2SHP)

Poll suggestion: What mobile devices do you own or use. Get a snapshot of the community. Have a discussion about why we bought them. I did not buy an android for the ability to dig around in the guts and modify the OS. But I would like to!

What's the point here? (Score: -1, Flamebait)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-17 08:21 (#2SG6)

What's the point of trying to run Linux on tablets? I don't get it. It's not like Linux is a successful desktop OS. It's broken and held together solely by the willpower of distributors. I don't use GNOME on my desktop and I wouldn't want it on a tablet either. I don't want to carry some gigabytes of brokenness around..

Is there some awesome application which runs only on Linux? I'm really curious, please tell me if you know of any.

If not, we already have some browsers, PDF viewers etc. Is this the kind of thing where the opensource guys try to write the 5000th tetris game "just because they can" and "the tile colors aren't perfect in any of the others"?

Re: What's the point here? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-17 09:33 (#2SG8)

There are aspects of Android which are crap for which there is currently no decent fix with the exception of cymeg.

Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 3, Interesting)

by on 2014-09-17 20:08 (#2SHD)

Why don't tablet makers include HDTV tuners, and HDMI inputs?

For minimal extra cost, your tablet would be much more flexible, and have a vastly longer useful life-span.

Just imagine that your beloved tablet could double as a computer monitor. That would be a killer feature for any techies. Adding that capability to a laptop costs over $300, and people are happy to pay it:

And once your tablet gets to be a bit out-of-date, instead of throwing it away, you can just mount it on a wall connected to your antenna as a (free) 10" HDTV. And a very "smart" TV it is, at that, able to integrate Netflix/Hulu/etc. streaming without needing an extra $50 Roku/Chromecast box attached to it.

Or if you don't have a need for a small TV, it can go on your desk, doing duty as an LCD computer monitor. Heck, you could use it as a computer monitor right away, and just have the option to use your monitor as a tablet for quick tasks without starting-up your noisy and power-hungry main computer.

And that's not even mentioning the benefit tablet users would get from having a handy HDTV tuner with them all the time. In most cities, an internal antenna is good enough to pick-up several TV channels, so you'd have lots of free content available whenever you wanted to watch, without the need for high-speed internet access for streaming the video. Of course there's always the option of connecting a larger external antenna, even if just a long piece of wire yu scrounged up, in reception-poor areas.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-17 20:44 (#2SHG)

Probably the cost of manufacturing, or the risk those components would interfere somehow. Good ideas though. My wife was just wondering how she could transfer what was on the screen of her ipad to the tv in front of us. I didn't know of any way. Guess on an Android device you could use Chromecast or something, but if something like that exists for iOS I'm not aware of it. Yes, a simple HDMI output would've saved the day. But I'm not holding my breath for it.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 2, Interesting)

by on 2014-09-17 22:02 (#2SHJ)

There is also probably a variety of standards of HDTV to deal with, across different countries the world and across different sources (satellite, ADSl, cable, terrestrial...).

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-18 00:12 (#2SHQ)

There are actually just 4 major terrestrial digital TV broadcast standards in the world:

The various details of each (eg. codecs) are handled in software easily enough. Heck, if you just have a basic tuner that can grab a ~6MHz chunk of the spectrum in the target frequencies, software defined radio could do all the RF decoding for you. Only problem for SDR is that old analog TV tuner cards separated video from audio before output, so chunks of the digital signal are missing, and you have to jump up to ridiculously expensive specialized non-consumer hardware. One company demanding such a thing could push the economies of scale, and get it very cheap.

I don't see any reason to include satellite/cable/etc tuners. OTA is the only one that'll be convenient for tablet use. If you want cable/satellite on your tablet once you've wall-mounted it, you can use whatever converter box is convenient, via HDMI input.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-18 01:13 (#2SHT)

If you have an AppleTV hooked up to that television (and on the same WiFi network as the iPad), you would just activate AirPlay and mirror the screen to the TV.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-18 09:21 (#2SHZ)

If I had an AppleTV I'd be in a lonely, lonely crowd. Joking, but I have never, ever seen one of those devices in the wild - I get the idea they weren't and aren't very popular and that other services/products like Roku and maybe even Amazon Fire have surpassed them.

Still, interesting to see Chromecast working with Apple products - it's a surprise to me. I don't think I'd go out and buy an AppleTV just to do this, though. My HDMI port on my TV is currently being shared by a Roku and a RaspberryPi running XBMC streaming stuff from my NAS.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2014-09-18 14:20 (#2SJS)

Zafe, I haven't done it, but it looks like you could also use AirPlay to hit XBMC on the RaspPi from the iPad; the support is built in to versions of XBMC. Also maybe Cheapcast.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-18 18:46 (#2SK0)

According to WP:

1st Gen: 6.6 million
2nd Gen: 4.2 million units
3rd Gen: 6 million units

I've never seen them around, either, but unless the same 7 million Apple fans keep upgrading, they must be out there in a decent number of homes.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 04:52 (#2ST7)

That is a brilliant idea, I wish they would implement this. I've got two android phones with analogue tv tuners, I've been unable to find any of the old VHF tv senders that used to be all over the place so I can make use of them for watching DVR stuff in bed. (non network capable DVR unfortunately)

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 05:26 (#2ST8)

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 06:27 (#2STC)

I've actually got a bunch of those, one from a camcorder, and a handfull from old VCR's I'm wondering if the minimal power output would be enough to send a signal from a antenna to 5m away the one I'm thinking of has the same inputs but just an antenna for output.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-23 10:07 (#2STN)

I'd pair it with an amplifier (RCA preamp is only $22) and some big rabbit-ears... Then you should be good to go.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-24 00:58 (#2SVH)

it'd have to be an RF preamp but I'll have a go with straight rabbit ears and see if I can get anything out, otherwise I'd probably have to build an RF amp myself. I've got a circuit diagram for a video sender but I've been unable to locate the correct two transistors and really dont know what the quality would be like with such a simple circuit, probably best using a modulator then amping the output.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-28 11:19 (#2SZW)

I'll have a go with straight rabbit ears and see if I can get anything out
Did you try it? I'd be interested to know how it worked out.

I recall trying the same thing with a VCR probably 20 years ago. Back then, I needed to run it through an amp to get a useful distance out of it, and it was still awfully staticy at that. Of course amps have gotten a lot better, and better ones much cheaper, since then. I still suggest adding an inexpensive RCA Preamp like I mentioned. Pretty sure that'll give you enough gain for decent reception 5m away.

Re: Why no TV tuners and HDMI-input? (Score: 1)

by on 2014-09-29 02:01 (#2T03)

I'll let you know when I finally get around to trying it.