Ubuntu Edge: A grand experiment for the future of computing does not constitute a failure

Are we so obsessed with failure that we are unable to see the value in a lesson learned for the mobile industry?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
Ubuntu's Edge: It's not the right time

Predictably, the Ubuntu Edge missed its funding target. And thus the naysayers rejoiced, cheering with glee that Mark Shuttleworth’s and Canonical’s grand experiment was not to be.

The tech culture is infested with a tendency to project failure onto new ideas, particularly if sacred cows are being threatened by them. It’s like attending a NASCAR or Formula 1 event with the hopes of seeing a gruesome crash by a freshman driver, rather than for the fun of watching the race itself and enjoying  the upstarts give the established racing teams a run for the money.

Some of us like Matthew Baxter-Reynolds would like to call raising nearly $13M out of a $32M target a failure.

I would posit that what we have just witnessed is that there is verifiable proof that there’s a large group of people that would love to see something different come out of the mobile industry. And Canonical should be commended rather than being jeered at for trying out a new concept and taking the kind of risks that others in our industry have not.

It’s as if no matter what you do, nobody can be made happy. Wall Street and industry writers/analysts navel gaze and fire pot shots when Apple and Google/Samsung/et cetera don’t get innovative enough with their products and engage in iterative aesthetic improvements and gimmickry rather than releasing things that are truly transformative.

But try something radically different and have it not take off like a rocket the first time around? Oh, well then you’re a failure.

By the way, in case anyone needs reminding, I work for Microsoft, a competitor to Canonical, so I understand firsthand what it means for companies to take substantial risks with new and innovative products.

We all know what the consequences are of waiting too long to take risks. BlackBerry waiting three years after the release of the iPhone to undertake a complete re-write of its smartphone operating system is proof that sitting on your laurels and being too conservative in this industry is far worse than taking the kind of risks that Ubuntu has with the Edge.

While hindsight is 20-20, had the then Research In Motion began development of BlackBerry 10 in 2008 when the iPhone and the Android OS app development trends begun in earnest, we might not all be talking now about how the technology crown jewel of Waterloo eventually gets broken apart and sold off a la Nortel Networks. 

Not every experiment in our industry results in a commercial success. Concepts are tried out, and sometimes they fail outright. But sometimes it takes multiple generations for a use case or an idea to take hold, and it’s not always the originator of that idea which hits pay dirt, either. XEROX and the GUI. GRID/Momenta and the tablet computer. Microsoft and the Pocket PC / Windows Mobile smartphones.

I could go on.

But we also cannot be quick to commit or propose infanticide every time a product does not meet initial expectations.

HP’s and Leo Apotheker’s euthanizing of the horribly mismanaged TouchPad and Palm set an awful (and shall I say it, criminal) precedent in establishing this failure-culture mindset, but today’s economic climate coupled with the company’s total incompetency regarding its mobile initiatives and other mega-financial and executive screw-ups made that experiment in mobile computing a fate accomplis.

Baxter-Reynolds would like you to believe that the Edge’s failure to achieve target funding is somehow linked to the notion that convergence devices have no use case. Just in case our resident mobile software consultant needs reminding, I’ve already knocked him on his derriere in a public debate that effectively debunked that line of thinking.

If there is to be any “Failure” in the Edge – and again, there was very little risk, and virtually no money lost here by Canoncal in undertaking a crowdsourcing strategy for monetizing this idea – is that the device as proposed was probably too ambitious initially and it was probably too expensive a concept to get traction.

But still, this was probably a very valuable lesson learned for Canonical. They need a more frugal version that does much of what the Edge did, just not encased in super-metal and sapphire crystal. They need the Toyota Prius V, not the Fisker. Which is precisely what Canonical wants to do next.

And should that version fail? It still doesn’t mean convergence is a bad idea. It just means that the right company needs to implement it, with the right combination of hardware, software and services features that end-users and businesses want. 

I for one, congratulate Canonical for one hell of a college try and for continuing to challenge and instill a sense of competition in the industry.

Do you see the Edge’s inability to achieve its target funding as a failure or a valuable lesson learned for Canonical and the mobile industry? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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