July 22, 2013

595 words 3 mins read

Ubuntu Edge – PR ploy or real shot?

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Earlier today Canonical, the corporate overlords behind Ubuntu, launched an Indiegogo campaign for the Ubuntu Edge. At a goal of $32 million USD, it is by far the largest crowd funding project I’ve ever heard of. Combine that with a tight deadline of exactly 30 days, Canonical has to raise over $1 million USD per day, for a phone.

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For the first 24 hours, they are offering a special “intro” price of $600 for one phone (limit 5000). After that first day, the backing price will be $830 per unit (or you can buy them at a discount of $800 per phone, if you buy 100 of them). Let’s ignore for the fact that spending $830 USD is a damn lot of money for a phone (Just $20 less than an iPhone 5 64 GB off contract). It’s entirely possible to sell all of those first 5000 discounted units, but that’s only $3 million of their $32 mil goal. But beyond that they need pledges for another ~35,000 units — for a total of 40,000 phones/pledges.

The phone looks attractive. Canonical certainly had a good industrial designer come in for the externals. On the internal side, the specs are not lacking. However, with the exception of 128 GB of storage, they aren’t that fantastic specs either. The only major item I notice is missing is 802.11AC support (which I realize is not common, but my Galaxy S4 does have it).

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The big question is, of course, software. Yes, the Edge says it will support dual-boot to Android, but that means you’ll have a very expensive Android device which could be beaten handily by something that may cost $400 off contract by the time the Edge comes out (ETA May 2014). Being on the bleeding edge is expensive. Now, I have used an early alpha of Ubuntu for phones and it seems promising — however Android seemed promising at launch and experience showed that v1.5 SUCKED.

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What am I trying to say in all of this? Well, I think the headline says it all. I love Ubuntu; I think Canonical is pretty decent for what they are, and mobile phones are the way to go… but this is all just one big PR stunt. At the time of writing, they have already received $1.6 million in pledges and half of the limited edition pledges are sold out. An impressive amount for less than 24 hours down (Note: Kickstarter’s biggest project was the Pebble watch at $10 million in a little over 30 days, but it only had a goal of $100,000) but unlikely to be sustainable, especially when the price kicks up to $830 per unit tomorrow. I have a feeling that Mark Shuttleworth already has a speech written for August 22nd that will go something like:

“Well, we really had high hopes for Ubuntu Edge campaign, but we didn’t quite make it. We’re still going to strive to bring you the best mobile phone experience ever. The campaign reached XX millions of dollars which just goes to show how much people really desire an open device…” yada yada yada.

Check back with me on August 22nd. If this campaign even makes it to the halfway mark ($16 million), I’ll be suitably impressed. I’m not saying it can’t possibly happen — in fact I wish Canonical the best of luck on it — but let’s be realistic: The goal is ludicrously high and Mark Shuttleworth/Canonical has the money to execute on this project without crowd funding. This is just a big (and well played) PR ploy.