Ubuntu Edge crowdfunding campaign seems set to fail

Canonical's bid to raise $32 million to fund the creation of the Ubuntu Edge smartphone using a crowdfunding campaign seems likely to failed. So, what went wrong?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Want a smartphone running both Android and a mobile version of Ubuntu? What about a handset that can also power the full version of Ubuntu? Just how badly do you want a handset like that?

Do you want it enough to pay almost $800 for it? 

When Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, kicked off an Indigogo campaign to raise $32 million, I have to admit I was sceptical that the handset would see light of day. After all, $32 million is a lot of money, and asking people to pay almost $800 for the promise of a handset that they've not see a single review for is asking a lot.

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Even the early bird price of $600 is hardly walking around cash for most people.

The total pledged currently stands at a shade under $8.4 million. A respectable total, but with only 15 days to go, it's far short of the total needed for the funds to be released and for the project to move forward. And time is ticking.

However, given that this is the largest crowdfunding campaign in history – the last one to come close to this was the Pebble smartwatch campaign, which successfully hit the $10 million mark – it is hard to predict what might happen. Successful campaigns usually see the greatest number of pledges at the beginning and end of the campaign, but with less than a third of the total needed pledged so far, a last-minute resurgence in pledges, no matter how enthusiastic, seems unlikely to make up for the shortfall.

Even selling all fifty "Enterprise 100 bundles," consisting of a hundred Ubuntu Edge smartphones, would only add $4 million to the pledge pot. To get the project on track, Canonical needs 40,000 backers to pre-purchase an Ubuntu Edge smartphone over the remaining 15 days. That's over 2,600 a day.

Given the rate at which the total raised is going up, there are fewer than 100 people a day pre-purchasing the handset.

What happens if the $32 million isn't raised? Simple. The Ubuntu Edge won't happen.

"If we don't reach our target there won't be an Ubuntu Edge," Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, told The Guardian. "We greatly appreciate every bit of support we receive during the 30 days. The funding target takes into account the large cost of manufacturing a high-end smartphone."

So, what went wrong?

  • Ubuntu doesn't have enough market clout
    Linux accounts for some 1 percent of the operating system market share, and Ubuntu is a subset of that 1 percent. Given that anyone can run Ubuntu on a PC for free, and yet fewer than 1 percent of PC users do, I fail to see the mass market attraction of this handset.
  • Too many handsets
    There are dozens of quality Android handsets out there that people can walk into a store, try, and buy. The market is close to saturation.
    I read and re-read the campaign page looking for things that gave the Edge the edge, and beyond a few geek thrills such as sapphire glass screen and 4GB of RAM, I came away empty handed.
  • Too much of an ask
    $32 million is a lot of dough, and expecting to raise this in a month is unrealistic. Hardware is expensive to bring to market, and big projects could be beyond what the current crowdfunding model can sustain.
  • Ambiguous spec
    "We’ll choose the fastest available multi-core processor, at least 4GB of RAM and a massive 128GB of storage," tells me little about what to expect. I'd expect the spec to be nailed down at this point, at least as far as who the suppliers for the different components might be.
  • Too far off into the future
    The expected handset delivery date of May 2014 feels far too far in the future. Sure, stuff takes a long time to make, but people are impatient.
  • Wait and see
    I suspect that a lot of people are playing a wait and see game. If the targets are hit and this gets made, then they'll be able to pick one up at some point afterwards. If it doesn't, then it's dead before the start.
  • Dual boot, double trouble
    Dual boot isn't for everyone, and whether you are dual-booting Linux on Windows, Windows on a Mac, or Android and Ubuntu Mobile on the Edge, two operating systems means twice the learning cure, twice the system admin, twice the updates, and twice the hassles.
  • Reboot
    The Ubuntu Edge, with its ability to run Ubuntu when connected to a full-screen display, is not a new idea. Motorola tried this with the Atrix. It was an interesting idea, and reviewers loved it, but it did little to improve Motorola's position. 

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