Ubuntu launches crowdfunding effort to manufacture a PC-level Edge superphone

Canonical is hoping to raise $32 million from enterprises and enthusiasts who are willing to pay for a limited edition Ubuntu for Android phone that has the specification of a laptop and delivers the "full desktop experience" when plugged into a big screen.

Canonical has embarked on what it claims is "the biggest ever crowdfunding campaign" to develop and manufacture a Ubuntu Edge smartphone that company founder and funder Mark Shuttleworth says is a mobile phone with the specification of a low-end laptop. This will be "a new class of device which brings forward what we see as the inevitable convergence of the phone and the PC," aimed primarily at enterprises and enthusiasts -- "people like us," said Shuttleworth.

Canonical is using Indiegogo to raise $32 million (£21.5 million) over 30 days. This will finance a limited production run of 40,000 phones.

"Backers committing $600 (£394) on day one, or $830 (£532) thereafter, will receive one of these groundbreaking mobile devices in May 2014," according to Canonical. Enterprises can buy a bundle of 100 phones for $80,000, including some online support.

"If we don't get the money, we're not going to do it," Shuttleworth added.

In a conference call today (Monday), Shuttleworth said the company was trying to exploit an "innovation gap" in the mobile phone industry. By making "tens of thousands rather than tens of millions" of devices, Canonical would be able to use more advanced, next generation components that have yet to reach high levels of mass production.

Indeed, the Edge's final specification is still somewhat open, and Shuttleworth said Canonical had not yet decided on a processor. He said that some of the people buying high-end packages at Indiegogo would be consulted on the final choices.

ubuntu edge

The initial specification, subject to change, is for the Ubuntu Edge to have a multi-core processor (perhaps 2.4GHz) with at least 4GB of memory and at least 128GB of storage. It will have a 4.5-inch sapphire crystal screen with an HD resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, 8 megapixel and 2MP cameras, a silicon-anode Li-Ion battery, stereo speakers with HD audio, dual-mic recording, and active noise cancellation. Shuttleworth said the spec was "above what the industry would spec for itself."

The radio features will include dual LTE for roaming in both Europe and the US. An MHL connector will enable users to connect the Edge to an HDMI TV for a "full desktop experience".

The operating system is "Ubuntu for Android with some level of file-sharing".

I asked Shuttleworth where Google was involved, if at all. He said he hadn't talked to Google about possible participation but "we are actively working with Android [app] developers". However, he said carriers were "keen to make sure the platform was open".

The Edge superphone is a possible addition to Canonical's existing plans for a range of Ubuntu phones: two mid-range and two high-end phones, with branded and unbranded options.

Canonical said: "Upon completion, the Ubuntu Edge will be the realisation of Canonical’s distinctive vision for a single operating system driving phones, tablets, conventional computers and TVs."

That's a vision that Microsoft has been busy executing for a long time, though with limited success. Of course, Canonical doesn't have to make the same sort of numbers: it's starting with less than 1 percent of the desktop PC market and 0 percent in phones.



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