As we reported yesterday, the Ubuntu Edge, a smartphone that doubles up as a desktop PC when docked, has unsurprisingly failed to meet its funding goal of $32 million (£20.5 million). As the Indiegogo campaign drew to a close at midnight last night, the Edge had raised just $12.8 million (£8.2 million) – a massive funding deficit of just over $19 million (£12 million).
Canonical is fairly stoic about its failure, issuing a statement that $12.8 million (£8.2 million) is still the “biggest ever fixed crowdfunding campaign.” Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, speaking to the Guardian newspaper, says that carriers and OEMs are still “definitely interested” in making mid-range Ubuntu-powered smartphones. For now, though, the dream of an ultra-high-spec superphone like the Edge, which doubles up as a desktop PC, is dead.
There’s no denying the fact that, despite not reaching its target, the Edge accrued a ton of press coverage, introducing Ubuntu to a lot of people who had never heard of it before. In this regard, it’s hard to call the Edge campaign a failure.
According to Canonical, the massive interest in the Edge has allowed the company to negotiate better prices with component suppliers for future Ubuntu-powered devices.
The Edge, though, is dead: In all likelihood, these devices will be low and mid-range devices that run Ubuntu Touch (the version of Ubuntu tailored for smartphones and tablets), and won’t have the ability to switch into desktop mode when docked.
The problem with Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and similar crowdfunding sites is that they tend to bring devices to market before they’re ready. Even Shuttleworth himself implies as much – speaking to the BBC, he said that if the funding had succeeded, “we would have been bringing the future forward a year or two at least.”
While the concept of a desktop-replacement smartphone is exciting enough to drum up $12.8 million (£8.2 million) in funding, the simple fact of the matter is that it isn’t ready for prime time. In a couple of years, that amount of money will probably be more than enough to set up a production line in China; but today, it just isn’t feasible. With enough interest, it’s possible for some crowdfunded projects to come to fruition ahead of their time – such as the Pebble smartwatch and Ouya game console – but their paths to market are still usually fraught with strife.
There are some who would argue that Canonical always knew that the Edge was vapourware, and that’s why the company opted to use Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter. There is almost no reason to use Indiegogo, except in cases where Kickstarter refuses to host your project – and if rumour is to be believed, Kickstarter refused to run the Edge project because it is not a store.
If you think about it, the Edge was never really a crowdfunded project; there were never any risks or challenges, nor an open development process. Canonical just wanted you to buy a phone. That’s how Canonical ended up hosting a ludicrous $32 million (£20.5 million) project on Indiegogo – whose previous funding record was just $1.37 million (£880,000) for the Scanadu Scout.
Moving forward, the first Ubuntu phones are expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2014. These, like the recently released Firefox OS phones, are likely to be mid-range phones that carriers primarily carry because they’re not beholden to Google or Apple. Any phones that have 1GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a quad-core Cortex-A9 or Intel Atom processor will be capable of switching into desktop mode – but as far as we know, none of these superphones are in the pipeline. In my opinion, we are probably still a few years away from smartphones that are capable of replacing our PCs.
For Canonical, though, which has been desperately trying to find a space in the consumer electronics market since it realised that desktop Ubuntu would never take off, the emergence of some Ubuntu-powered phones, irrespective of how lacklustre the hardware turns out to be, will be a very exciting prospect indeed. Whether Ubuntu Touch really stands a chance against iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and dozens of also-ran mobile operating systems, is another question entirely.