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GNOME Shell prepares its arrival on mobile phones and tablets

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Although from the official line of the project it has been insisted that it is oriented to the desktop, there are not a few who see GNOME-Shell as a hint of convergent interface oriented to touch devices. With a Phosh that has been trying for years to adapt the desktop to mobile phones, now it seems that there are real intentions of officially bringing it to this type of device, or at least that is what the post published by Jonas Dressler in the blogs of GNOME.

Dressler says that, as part of the design process for GNOME 40, the team behind it was working on several experimental concepts, some of which were aimed at improving compatibility with mobile phones and tablets. This has opened the door to consider the possibility of bringing a GNOME Shell port really adapted to mobile devices.

It seems that the road has been covered in an important percentage, since Dressler has said that it won’t be long before GNOME Shell works on phones, but not perfectly. For this, it mentions aspects such as the fully customizable application grid, with paging, folders and reordering by drag and drop; the fact that the distribution of workspaces is horizontal; plus the ability to swipe up to navigate to the Activities view and the app grid. All this, according to the author’s position, should pave the way for the adaptation of the environment to mobile phones and touch devices.

But in addition to the most basic things, GNOME has long been working on desktop-level features that should be ported to a mobile device, including quick settings, redesigned notifications, and an improved on-screen keyboard.

The work to port GNOME Shell to mobile phones, which has reportedly intensified in the last two months, has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Prototype Fund, a program dedicated to supporting software of public interest run by the German Ministry of Education.

GNOME Shell concept on mobile

GNOME Shell concept on mobile.

Jonas Dressler acknowledges that they do not expect the aid granted to perform the miracle of allow GNOME Shell to be fully functional on mobile, as this would require a much larger effort encompassing “things like calls on the lock screen, PIN code unlock, emergency calls, a flashlight switch and other little features that make life easier”.

Despite the great challenges of providing a true mobile interface, more basic aspects such as navigating the shell, launching applications, search and the on-screen keyboard are more feasible in the current circumstances. It’s more, things like a new gesture API and screen size detection have already been introduced, while in progress are adding a mobile layout with a different top and bottom panel for gestures, making each app take up one workspace when running full screen, and adapting the app grid layout to mobile screens. Pending are the on-screen keyboard and quick settings.

Apart from resizing and redesigning things in order to fit them, there will also be items that will be disabled when GNOME Shell is detected to be running on a small touch device and gesture recognition is being rebuilt to improve it. Most of the backlog has not yet been merged into Mutter and GNOME Shell.

In short, it seems that GNOME 40 laid the foundations to make the desktop environment capable of working properly on a mobile or tablet, although at the moment there are no guarantees that everything will come to fruition. We will see how far these efforts really go, but in case of supporting 100% of the characteristics of a smartphone, it would be ahead to gain a foothold in a field that has made it much more difficult for GNU/Linux than x86 computers.

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