Canonical's IndieGoGo launch yesterday of the Ubuntu Edge, a slick, powerful device meant to double as a desktop PC replacement, made waves in the world of open-source and provoked both admiration and a healthy dose of skepticism from some experts.
Stepping away from the traditional model of hardware development and putting the project on IndieGoGo could bring the Ubuntu Edge some unique advantages, according to 451 Research analyst Jay Lyman.
[MORE SMARTPHONE PLATFORMS:Here comes Tizen! Samsung to host its first developer conference in October]
"Canonical's move to crowd-source and crowd-fund the Ubuntu Edge phone sort of takes the open source approach a step further, opening the phone up and loosening control, but building a broad base of developer and even user support with its launch," he tells Network World.
NW blogger and Linux developer Bryan Lunduke wrote that Canonical's comparison of Edge to a Formula One race car is an apt one.
"Ubuntu Edge is more of a proving ground for cutting-edge mobile technology - a way to provide the most state-of-the-art hardware and functionality to power users, while showing existing phone manufacturers and carriers what is possible," he said.
Lunduke also applauded the decision to launch the phone as a dual-boot device with Android, as well as its ability to be docked and used as a full Ubuntu desktop, in combination with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
"This same functionality is going to be available whether you are running Android or Ubuntu Touch on the phone. All of which is very, very cool," he notes.
Still, there's a long way to go before the Ubuntu Edge really carves out a niche in the bitterly competitive smartphone marketplace. The funding goal, which must be met within a month, is $32 million - orders of magnitude more than the average project on IndieGoGo or Kickstarter. The $830 contribution required to earmark an Edge for yourself is hefty, though not that far above the off-contract price tag for today's flagship devices, to be fair.
In short, the Edge is a risky product. And according to Linux developer and Accessible Computing Foundation director Jonathan Nadeau, that's something that Canonical has recently demonstrated a willingness to embrace.
"In the last six months, Ubuntu has made a lot of changes with the direction they're going as a project and there's been a lot of outcry from the community. This is the double-edged sword they face while trying to innovate," he says. "Whether or not I agree with the steps they are taking, I applaud them for the chances they're taking. Only time will tell if they've made the right choice."
Both Nadeau and Lyman say that the cutthroat competition in the smartphone market, particularly in the U.S., will also be a significant obstacle for the Edge to overcome.
"Given Android and Apple dominance of the mobile OS space - any challenger has an uphill climb, particularly with the key factor of OEM and wireless carrier support," Lyman says.
"I think this will be a tough fight for Ubuntu," Nadeau concurs.
If funded, the ambitious Ubuntu Edge will ship in May 2014.
Email Jon Gold at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.
Read more about software in Network World's Software section.