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You'll NEVER guess who's building the first Ubuntu phones in 2014

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The first smartphones running Ubuntu will ship this year, Canonical now says – although the Linux vendor's hardware partners are hardly the first companies you might guess.

In January, Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon said that getting major carriers on board with the upstart mobile OS was "longer-term," and that the first Ubuntu smartphones would be built by small manufacturers who serve small regions. Apparently he wasn't kidding.

According to a press release issued on Wednesday, the first companies to manufacture Ubuntu phones will be none other than Meizu and bq.

Never heard of them? Don't worry, you're not alone – although both companies do exist and both have shipping products today.

Canonical's release describes Meizu as "one of China's most successful high-end smartphone manufacturers with over 1,000 employees, 600 retail stores and a global presence in China, Hong Kong, Israel, Russia and Ukraine."

The Reg has spotted the Meizu brand around these parts a few times before, mainly on portable media players and smartphones that bore a striking resemblance to products made by a certain Cupertino-based firm.

Spain's bq, on the other hand, is new to us – although Canonical says it has become the country's second biggest seller of unlocked smartphones in less than a year, having shipped 1.5 million devices in 2013 alone.

Canonical says Ubuntu affords hardware makers "unprecedented customization opportunities," but adds that both bq and Meizu plan to ship Ubuntu running on "mid to high end hardware." (As a guide, Meizu touts an Android 4.2 MX3 smartmobe which is powered by an eight-core ARM Cortex-A15 chip with 2GB of RAM and a three-core PowerVR SGX544MP3 graphics chip; bq sells a similar Aquaris device.)

That hardware strategy distinguishes Ubuntu from the Mozilla Foundation's open-source Firefox OS, which beat Ubuntu to market with actual, functioning devices, but so far has only shipped on low-end kit designed for emerging markets.

No word was given on which carriers would market the first Ubuntu phones, if any, although Canonical pointed out that its Carrier Advisory Group, which is meant to collaborate on making Ubuntu more attractive to smartphone buyers, now includes 16 mobile operators from around the world.

Even if carriers shun Ubuntu devices at launch, however, Canonical says the mobes will be sold globally via mail, with online ordering available from bq, Meizu, and at Ubuntu.com. ®

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