Just what are those Linux lovers trying to pull here?
On Monday, Canonical announced a new Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund the Ubuntu Edge, a crazy ambitious smartphone that can double as a fully functional desktop PC when paired with a monitor and mouse. But that ambitious endeavor was joined by equally ambitious funding goals: If you wanted to get your hands on the phone, you could plunk down $600 on the first day, or $830 thereafter.
The attention and the discount created a surge, and the Ubuntu Edge has already racked up more than $4 million towards its $32 million funding goal. But, with all of the lower tier sold out, Canonical has gone back to the drawing board and introduced three new lower-priced funding tiers: $625, $675, and $725, all of which will nab you a Ubuntu Edge if the campaign is successful.
Kickstarting the future sometimes means tweaking your tactics--especially if you're trying to raise three times more moolah than the most successful Kickstarter campaign to date managed to scarf down. (More on that suspicious total later.)
According to a project update, the quantities in each tier are limited, and slightly more expensive tiers will be introduced as the new additions fill up. The $830 tier will remain available in unlimited quantities throughout the campaign, but Canonical is tossing a bone to deep-pocketed early backers: The company dropped all $830 pledges down to $625 and promised to refund the difference at the end of the campaign.
Like a Windows tablet, only smaller and Linux-y
No matter whether you're dropping $625, $830, or some point in between, that's a lot of cash to drop on a concept. But the hardware promised at the end will hopefully be nothing less than a PC in even more mobile form than a Windows tablet.
Echoing BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth thinks it's madness to buy a cornucopia of computerized devices.
"If you only have to buy one set of RAM, CPU and storage and CPU for your phone, your tablet, and your PC, there are enormous savings there in doing that," he said during the Ubuntu Edge press conference. "If developers only have to target one platform, there are enormous benefits for them. This will be the first phone you can connect to a screen and get a full PC experience."
Rather than attempting to frankenmangle the smartphone and desktop experiences together, as Microsoft has does with mixed results in Windows 8, the Ubuntu Edge takes a more harmonious approach to convergence. The phone will dual-boot both Android and Ubuntu's own mobile OS while being used in squawk box mode. Magic happens when you connect the device to a monitor, however: It seamlessly converts to the desktop Ubuntu interface, complete with all the keyboard support and sudo apt-get commands that Linux aficionados know and love.
Handling such hefty duties requires heftier hardware than the average smartphone, however, and underneath the Ubuntu Edge's 4.5-inch, 720p sapphire display lies components more suitable for a PC than portability. Canonical promises to equip the Edge with "the fastest available multi-core processor," a whopping 128GB of internal storage, and a minimum of 4GB of RAM. (The Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo page has a full list of specs.)
That's more than capable enough to run the lightweight Ubuntu OS, though cramming all that PC-level hardware and a 4G LTE radio into a smartphone makes visions of battery-drained devices dance in my head. Canonical plans to use silicon-anode battery technology to try and "squeeze more energy out of the same dimensions."
Will Ubuntu Edge succeed? That depends on the goal
Like I said: The Ubuntu Edge is crazy ambitious, and if all goes to plan, it could even be revolutionary. That's a mighty big "if," though. While the new tiers will help, and Canonical has already raised enough cash to make the Edge one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in history, it still has more than $27 million to go.
That's almost seven times more than Canonical has raised already, and it's a good bet that many of the type of rabid Linux lovers who would back a campaign like this have already done so. A whopping $2 million of the $4 million raised thus far was pledged in the Edge campaign's first eight hours of existence, Engadget reports. The Pebble smartwatch, the most lucrative crowdfunding campaign ever, raised just north of $10 million in total.
With 29 days to go, anything can happen. But maybe, just maybe, the Ubuntu Edge could be a holy grail of sorts: An object meant to inspire rather than to be obtained. Consider the words of Shuttleworth at the press conference:
"We'll use crowdfunding to see if there is a real market. Today there are very few people who decide what will go into the next generation of handsets. And they can't possible get it right all the time. With crowdfunding, we can connect the passionate forward-thinking types directly to manufacturers."
Canonical has offered the desktop-shifting Ubuntu for Android for more than a year now, and it has yet to convince third-party manufacturers to take a bite. Now, Canonical has launched the Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo campaign--a campaign with a ridiculously lofty funding goal, sky-high pledge tiers, and almost dreamy-sounding hardware. The company won't whip up the Ubuntu Edge if it can't raise the full $32 million, and it has no plans to stay in the hardware game once the Edge is complete.
Pull it all together and you realize that Canonical's smartphone isn't the true goal of this campaign.
Canonical can win even if the Ubuntu Edge fails to materialize. The mere existence of this Indiegogo campaign has focused the media's eye on Ubuntu for Android. What's more, the Indiegogo stats show that nearly 10,000 people were willing to buy into its vision to the tune of more than $4 million--and the campaign still has 29 days left to go.
To wit: Shuttleworth and Co. have already used crowdfunding to show that there is a real market for a Ubuntu phone, even if it's not the Edge. It might not be a huge market, but it's there--and enticing manufacturers into rolling the dice on Canonical's vision of convergence may just be the true goal of this crazy ambitious $32 million campaign.
Joab Jackson of IDG News Service contributed to this report.