The $32 million super-phone is dead

August 22, 2013: 5:32 PM ET
ubuntu edge
Plans to build a crowdfunded, Ubuntu smartphone ended on Wednesday after the project failed to meet its funding goals.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Sometimes a good idea just isn't good enough.

Canonical, maker of the popular free operating system Ubuntu, wanted to produce a smartphone to showcase what its forthcoming mobile OS can do.

So it launched an Indiegogo campaign asking backers to help make its project a reality. But this wasn't any ordinary campaign. Not only was Canonical attempting to generate $32 million in funding -- the largest crowdfunding goal ever -- it was asking everyone who actually wanted one to pony up $830 (it would later lower this price to $695).

The price matched the promise: Canonical wanted to produce the best phone on the market, a high-end device that could generate the same sort of consumer lust awarded the Apple (AAPL) iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S 4.

It would have a processor faster than anything available right now. It would have a sapphire screen capable of withstanding extra abuse. And it would be able to function as a full Linux PC when connected to a keyboard and monitor, giving it functionality that most people see as a future innovation.

"Ultimately it would be a great way to bring attention to the fact that convergence is available today," said Canonical Vice President Victor Palau.

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But it wasn't to be: The campaign ended up missing its mark by quite a lot on Wednesday, generating only $12.8 million -- still the most amount of money ever raised by a crowdfunding platform.

Canonical says that it went the crowdfunding route because it had no plans to become a proper hardware maker, and didn't want to accept any sort of investment money. It simply wanted to produce a run of 40,000 devices to show how its software should look and feel on a device.

Now that the campaign is over and dead, Canonical says that it will move on from pursing the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. Instead, the company will work to partner up with hardware manufacturers and push its Mobile Ubuntu platform.

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While the Ubuntu Edge project generated more crowdfunding than any other project ever, the Edge project had a fatal flaw: Interesting as its features were, it wouldn't have solved many problems currently found in smartphones.

The proposed processor speed and RAM capacity was more than we've seen in previous devices, but there was nary a word of size, weight, battery life or camera performance, which are very important features to be overlooking. Plus, we wouldn't be seeing this until the middle of 2014 at the earliest, which is enough time for plenty of superior devices to materialize from the big smartphone makers.

And ultimately, the biggest innovation it promises - smartphone/PC convergence - is just something people aren't ready for yet. Being able to use a phone as a PC is 100% dependent on having access to a monitor, mouse and keyboard wherever you want to use it. Easy access to that gear outside the home or office is hardly ubiquitous. In fact, it's quite scarce.

Combine these concerns with the fact that any mobile OS not named iOS or Android faces considerable difficulty attracting third-party app developers, and it's not hard to see why even those who are interested by the idea would have pause.

In the end, it wasn't so much that the Ubuntu edge was a bad idea, or even a preposterous one. It simply was not an idea that addressed any pressing needs or provided new insights on what role technology could play in the lives of normal people. If it had done that, it wouldn't have needed to crowdfund the phone at all.


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