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Summary:

Canonical is not on track to hit the lofty $32 million crowdfunding target it set for its smartphone. And telling its Linux-centric fanbase that openness and hackability are not top priorities will not help its cause.

Ubuntu Edge

The more I track how Canonical is handling the crowdfunding campaign for its Ubuntu Edge smartphone, the more I think it’s going to fail. I get this feeling partly from watching the growing disparity between funds raised and funds needed, and partly from new details that Canonical has recently released.

Let’s start with a graph of the project‘s progress thus far, thoughtfully put together by Canonical’s Gustavo Niemeyer (if you can’t make out the numbers and text on the axes, though, be aware that the graph represents the last few days only, and doesn’t start from zero):

Ubuntu Edge success graph

The red line represents the trajectory needed to hit that ambitious $32 million figure, while the purple represents reality. At the time of writing, around $7.5 million had been raised – if things were going as they should be, 8.5 days into the 30-day campaign, the total so far should be $9.4 million.

Of course, the path towards success would never be straight – incentives boost interest and funds raised. The Indiegogo campaign got off to a good start with the $600 “perk” level flying off the virtual shelves, only to stall afterwards.

People weren’t snapping the device up at its full $830 price (only 33 have done so thus far) so Canonical introduced a new series of perk tiers below that level. These are running out too, now. At the moment, the best offer people can get is $775, which isn’t hugely lower than $830.

So why aren’t people more interested?

Let’s rewind for a moment. Ubuntu was, for a long time, the most popular Linux distribution. It was overtaken a while back by Mint, in part because Ubuntu started changing its interface with a view to becoming more mobile-friendly.

Canonical knew where it was going with its Unity interface – the Ubuntu Edge concept involves one underlying operating system that can be smartphone-y on a mobile screen and desktop-y when connected to a monitor and keyboard – but a lot of Linux enthusiasts weren’t so keen.

So who is it precisely that Canonical is going after with the Ubuntu Edge? It’s certainly not the mass market. The Edge is a concept device with very high internal specifications for a smartphone (4GB of RAM!) that is intended to show off Canonical’s “converged” mobile-desktop approach. What’s more, it will never go on general sale – only those buying into the Indiegogo campaign will get their hands on it.

So you would think Canonical would be desperately trying to attract Linux aficionados to pledge their hard-earned $775-$830. However, on Tuesday Canonical posted a Q&A about the campaign, which included this note:

Will the Ubuntu Edge be sustainable and/or hardware hackable?
While we will do our best to keep the hardware as open as possible, these are not the main focus of the project in its first generation. Hardware that’s capable of convergence is the priority.”

In my view, this is a grave mistake. Hackability and openness are pretty much the top priorities for Linux fans (cynically speaking, why else would someone put themselves through the relative user-unfriendliness of Linux UIs?) and, what is more, there is already another rather successful Linux-based operating system that is very hackable. It’s called Android.

Concept vs reality

The convergence idea hasn’t worked so far – witness Motorola’s Atrix dock, which hardly set the world on fire. But it remains a good idea. Having one device that can be both a smartphone and desktop computer is in itself a very sustainable concept (making Canonical’s lack of focus on sustainable materials a bit easier to forgive), and with sufficient internal horsepower it could well work.

The Ubuntu Edge could prove that, but not if its crowdfunding campaign fails. If that happens, backers won’t lose their money, but Canonical’s reputation will take a serious hit and more low-cost Ubuntu phones – the ultimate goal of this exercise – won’t materialize.

Ultimately, the people Canonical really needs to convince are carriers, who are the ones with the big marketing budgets and also the ones currently diving into Firefox OS as their open alternative to the Android-iOS duopoly. If the crowdfunding campaign succeeds, they are more likely to bite. If it fails, they will run away.

Canonical doesn’t have much space left to introduce cheap tiers, in order to pump up demand for the Edge. The deep-pocketed Linux fanboi demographic is already pretty limited, even before Canonical annoys these potential buyers by downplaying its openness ambitions. And as for average smartphone users, they don’t know what Ubuntu is, nor will they understand Canonical’s convergence play until someone (a carrier, probably) shows it to them in action.

Unless Canonical quickly wises up about playing to its existing fanbase, I’m not sure this crowdfunding endeavor was a risk worth taking.

  1. In the latest update they also strongly hint at no microSD slot and most of their buyers will hate that.
    They also seem to be considering x86 and that would be a strategic mistake.
    The hole thing was very badly handled, if they don’t have the internal marketing resources for this they should have hired someone.

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    1. Shane Kelvin Piper Saturday, August 3, 2013

      Do you really need a mircoSD slot with a 128GB internal hard drive and with cloud storage is there any need for the microSD, upload images and music to the Ubuntu One cloud storage and download directly to your phone simple.

      As for x86, I don’t believe that is possible at the moment. Mark Shuttleworth hinted at the same Arm Processor which is running the HP Moon shine servers as a candidate, but again that is not confirmed.

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      1. Local storage is always important for a power user. How is cloud better than local removable storage when security is an issue? MicroSD has turned into the replacement for CDs and Floppys and USB Flash drives, since MicroSD can be utilized in an USB reader.

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  2. I don’t think the project is going to make it, but I thought that as soon as I saw the $32M.

    I disagree with the analysis though. The backers of this project aren’t Linux aficionados, they’re fans of high end hardware.

    It’s not Ubuntu that excites, it’s the sapphire screen. It’s a high end device the size of an iPhone without being an iPhone, in an age where all high end Android devices are stupidly large and made of plastic.

    Appealing to the hardware hacker crowd would have limited the audience further. Instead of sleek machined metal, you get cheap replaceable parts. If you want to build a phone, you can build a phone anyway.

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    1. Would tend to agree with some of your points @hahnchen, in particular regarding the target market audience for Ubuntu Edge being innovators looking for something different than an iPhone. But for this price level, hardware or OS should be REALLY impressive ! Dual OS (Ubuntu + Android) is nice but maybe not good enough ?

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      1. The article written here is well and truly “out there”… I am an Apple user. This is the only thing that has excited me since the iPhone 2G & iPhone 4. I love great Tech & the Edge is nothing short of that.

        I’m not at all interested in Android at all. I would only boot it to play the odd game. I love where Ubuntu Touch is heading and the speed at which it is getting there via the community. Unlike iOS where you see 7 generations of the same awful settings layout.

        Now the problem is that a massive percentage of people are just sheep, Samsung’s multi billion dollar advertising campaign is a prime example. Back in the day I was the only one running around with a PDA telling everyone how cool it was, it was 7 years before it became really normal thanks to the iPhone 2G.

        People who can truly see tech for what it is “&” try to implement it are a very tiny minority, that simply is the problem right now. But I highly commend Canonical for trying & can only hope for success.

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  3. What a nonsense. Mint has never overtaken Ubuntu. Only on Distrowatch the Mint page got more clicks Than other distros. But that is zero indication for the amount of installed systems.

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    1. Of course you are correct about MINT. Also

      * the holocaust never happened
      * global warming is a pernicious lie
      * God created the world with all those marine fossils on top of mountains–and 6000 years ago, at that.
      * the moon landings? Happened only on a stage lot in Anaheim
      * UFOs? One of the US’s best-kept conspiracies.

      Be sure to write soon and let me know what I’ve forgotten to include.

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      1. You forgot the one where Wikimedia statistics show Ubuntu as having 50 times Mint’s traffic.

        http://stats.wikimedia.org/wikimedia/squids/SquidReportOperatingSystems.htm

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  4. I think you missed the point. They are talking about HARDWARE openness and you keep referring to software openness (which is already there in Ubuntu).

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  5. Your article says:
    “Ubuntu was, for a long time, the most popular Linux distribution. It was overtaken a while back by Mint”

    Like many other articles I suppose you use DistroWatch’s numbers to make that statement?

    Per DistroWatch’s own Website: “The DistroWatch Page Hit Ranking statistics are a light-hearted way of measuring the popularity of Linux distributions and other free operating systems among the visitors of this website. They correlate neither to usage nor to quality and should not be used to measure the market share of distributions. They simply show the number of times a distribution page on DistroWatch.com was accessed each day, nothing more.”

    Ubuntu has been downloaded approximately 25Mil times per Canonical’s counter.

    I could be wrong but even though Mint is very popular and a very good distro… I’d still be surprised if there were >25mil Mint users

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    2. Yeah, this “journalist” David Meyer is out of his depth.
      Free software is not his thing, and it looks as if someone forced him to write about this stuff.

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  6. the relative user-unfriendliness of Linux UIs

    The comment of someone that does not use Linux. Got back to your Winblows and stop writing about stuff you do not understand.

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    1. ‘winblows’? way to show how intelligent you are…. how old are you 5?

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    2. Creds: I have Linux installed on both my computers, and also own a Ben NanoNote. What the author says about ‘user-unfriendliness’ is 100% correct. But most Linux users don’t care; there is more too an OS than eye-candy

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  7. “Hackability and openness are pretty much the top priorities for Linux fans [...]”

    I think the article is mixing to different terms. Ubuntu might have binary blobs for drivers, and therefore not be as open as we wish, but you will be able to root Ubuntu Edge in the same manner as Android.

    “[...] what is more, there is already another rather successful Linux-based operating system that is very hackable. It’s called Android.”

    When you start up Ubuntu Edge you can choose if you want to use Android or Ubuntu Touch. When you dock the phone to a monitor and a keybord you will be able to run a full desktop environment directly from Android or Ubuntu Touch.

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  8. The hardware has no right to be this expensive.

    Why don’t they port Ubuntu to Lenovo k900 (atoms cpu) and pay Lenovo to put 2 extra ram and a sd card in it. It should be around 400-500 USD at best.

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  9. You are just trying to invent negative stuff. So weird!

    About the issue of binary blobs? This is a pragmatic view. It is not possible yet to get a high-end phone without any binary blobs. Most probably there will be somewhere, such as with the GPU. It would be silly to fight this one now, while the goal is to get Ubuntu Edge out in the market.

    The difficult thing with Ubuntu Edge is that it is pricey, and will delivery next year. It’s a economic issue for quite some folks. Just that. Simple, huh?

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    1. pricey? you’re kidding, right? A quick look on the UK Expansys store shows:

      The Galaxy S4 is £499.99 in the UK ($759 at current XE.com rate) for the 16GB version and is made of plastic with only 2GB of RAM and 1.9GHz processor. Only $40 cheaper.
      The HTC One is £479.99 ($728) for the 32GB and so has a quarter of the storage and only 1.7GHz CPU. Only $70 cheaper.
      The 64GB iPhone 5 (“B-Stock” only, so not even mint brand new!) is £749.99 ($1138!!!) and that has half the storage to the Edge. $238 more expensive!

      So how is a 128GB, metal-bodied, sapphire crystal screen, top-of-the-range CPU, 4GB RAM handset for $800 (£526) anything other than a bargain compared to that lot?

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    2. Konrad Andree Nordvik Wednesday, July 31, 2013

      I do not agree on your assumption concerning binary blobs There are a number reasons why binary blobs should be avoided when concerning so called open/free operating systems, which are security, stability, follow up and openness. To introduce/allow binary blobs into the Ubuntu Edge design is in my opinion a strategic mistake in relation to the Linux community and what it tries to stand for. In my opinion Canonical should either rescind the use of binary blobs or at the very least pledge to their costumers that these binary blobs will be rectified ASAP.

      Concerning the Ubuntu Edge’s price, I think Canonical has again made a mistake when it comes to who its customers are and the price their willing to pay. I also think that the pre-marketing and its execution has a lot to be desired. With a lot more work here Canonical could have increased the number of bakers and customers 10 fold without breaking a sweat.

      Canonical has also shown that by not sufficiently answering their bakers and customers concerns about technical issues and third party support, they have lost potential bakers and customers. Thus their efforts flounder and they have know one but them selves to blame.

      But with all this said I hope they succeed.

      Best regards,
      Konrad

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      1. there may be certain chipsets or components in the device where canonical have to use whatever binary blob the developer of that chipset/component made.

        They want the best hardware, but of course are trying to get the hardware thats the most open.

        In this edge release they state they are not aiming 100% at getting open hardware as they would rather have a nice device as highest priority.

        It’s freaking minimal what is actually closed source in this .. and for 99% of people getting a phone/device/pc/whatever it doesn’t matter at all.

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        1. Konrad Andree Nordvik Thursday, August 1, 2013

          You have a point but I don’t agree with you that it doesn’t matter if binary blobs are used or not. The problem is that most consumers do not know about binary blobs and the problems these pos.

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  10. Pierre van Male Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    Thanks for the link to the graph. I was looking for this. It actually starts from the first day. You just have to drag the time window frame on the bottom graph.

    Canonical may fail to reach the 32 millions objective, but it will have achieved many other success, including advertizing Ubuntu Touch.

    Ubuntu Edge is not for the mass. This was explained clearly from the beginning (with the analogy to the F1, which is definitely not a democratic vehicle). And it is indeed a different concept than the Ubuntu distribution as such. As Mark explained it: it is designed to move forward the conception of the hardware. This was also stated when he announced Ubuntu Touch, beginning of the year: the OS will be designed both for democratic models (with less features) and premium ones (with then the capacity to run the Ubuntu desktop).

    I personally do not see any contradiction in this. They are complementary objectives.

    Cheers,
    Pierre

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