Ubuntu’s failed $32 million Edge campaign reveals a thirst for mobile innovation

canonical partners meizu bq make ubuntu mobile phones reality edge1

The Ubuntu Edge, Canonical’s awesomely innovative concept phone, failed to reach its goals on Indigogo. Days ago, it broke the record for the most money ever pledged to a crowdfunded online site when it surpassed the $10,266,845 haul of the Pebble Watch, and when the campaign deadline ended on Wednesday, August 21 at 11:59pm Pacific, pledges stood at 12,812,776 with about 20,000 people contributing what they could to make Ubuntu’s dream phone a reality. But let’s be clear: although this may be the most successful attempt at online crowdfunding ever, it’s still a failed campaign. But it may signal a fresh start for Ubuntu.

“All of the support and publicity has continued to drive our discussions with some major manufacturers, and we have many of the world’s biggest mobile networks already signed up to the Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group,” said Ubuntu founder and Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth in a note to supporters of the campaign. “They’ll have been watching this global discussion of Ubuntu and the need for innovation very closely indeed. Watch this space!”

Instead of aiming to merely set a record, Canonical instead shot for the moon, setting its fundraising goal at $32 million.

But you won’t see a phone like the Edge anytime soon. Even it’s creators admitted to us that, save for a miracle, there was no chance that the Ubuntu Edge would meet its funding goal going into the last week of the campaign. This is because, instead of aiming to merely set a record, Canonical instead shot for the moon, setting its fundraising goal at $32 million, or more than three times more money than has ever been raised this way before. Though the amount was high, it is low by phone design and manufacturing standards. A significant investment of 40,000 units was needed to secure the kind of prices that make a phone like it possible.

“We remain optimistic,” Victor Palau, Canonical’s VP of Phone and Hyperscale Delivery told Digital Trends a week before the campaign ended. “It’s going to take something pretty special to make it happen, but we’re talking to enterprise space to see if we can get anyone involved to fully fund the phone. It’s difficult to get these agreements in place in time for the deadline, but we did get Bloomberg, and some others.”

He was referring to the Bloomberg the media company, which pledged $80,000 to the campaign on August 8. No other $80,000 backers emerged.

Ubuntu’s ‘galactic gamble’ 

The project was an undeniable risk. Our own Andy Boxall called it a “galactic gamble” that could have sunk Canonical if it failed to deliver on the phone’s lofty hardware promises. And those promises were steep. Canonical promised that the Edge would be the first phone that could also act as an adequate PC, thanks to Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch operating system. If Ubuntu doesn’t do it for you, the phone would also dual-boot Google’s Android OS, and come with a lofty set of specs.

The Edge would have 128GB of internal file storage, 4GB of RAM, the fastest processor available on the market (they don’t even know what it is yet), a 4.5-inch 720 x 1280 pixel screen, dual-LTE antenna, Stereo speakers, a sapphire glass screen, and a silicon-anode battery. Aside from the $11,000 Vertu TI, no smartphone yet implements sapphire glass, which is nearly unbreakable (here’s some proof), and silicon-anode batteries are supposed to be the next big leap in battery tech, packing a significant deal more juice into the same space as current lithium-ion batteries.

Sapphire screens and silicon-anode batteries are so cutting edge that we weren’t convinced Canonical could make its ship date of May 2014 should it use them. But Victor Palau insisted that the company had thought this through, telling us that while the battery and sapphire screen tech “wouldn’t be possible [yet] in a mass market phone,” at the 40,000 or so volume of units Canonical targetted, it’s possible.

That was, of course, assuming that a $20 million miracle happened in the final week of the campaign. It never did, and Palau told us that Canonical will not find other ways to fund and make the Edge: “If we don’t make the $32 million target, we will not make the phone on our own.”

Just the beginning for Ubuntu Touch

This isn’t the end of Ubuntu Touch, however. Canonical described the Edge as a small “side project.” It is already working with an unnamed “major manufacturer” to create and deliver a phone with more modest specs – and less sapphire glass. And thanks to the campaign, other manufacturers are showing interest in the OS, though Shuttleworth and Palau won’t tell us exactly which manufacturers those are. Canonical hopes that its efforts prove that there is demand for high-end devices like this and manufacturers need to push the envelope on hardware.

“…Ubuntu Edge is already making a difference,” said Shuttleworth in a statement last week. “This campaign lets enthusiast consumers signal their interest to a mobile industry that caters overwhelmingly to the mainstream. It’s making it clear that we’re no longer satisfied with minor updates; we’re looking for true innovation and we’re ready to pay for it. And that message is getting through. So in a sense, we can be proud of what’s been achieved already – but we really want to hit that $32 million!”

After the campaign ended, Shuttleworth issued an optimistic thank you to all supporters, an endorsement of Indiegogo, and – like a good politician – he didn’t rule out another run at crowdfunding in the future: “We believe [crowdfunding is] a great way to give consumers a voice and to push for more innovation and transparency in the mobile industry. And who knows, perhaps one day we’ll take everything we’ve learned from this campaign – achievements and mistakes – and try it all over again. Thank you all.”

No, the Ubuntu Edge did not fly, but it definitely didn’t completely fail. Canonical’s dream phone fell, but like Buzz Lightyear, the Edge fell with style. With a goal this cool and ambitious, the press and awareness Canonical has gained from this campaign alone may help Ubuntu Touch become a real contender against Android, iOS, and Windows Phone in the future. Hopefully it will help bring sapphire screens and silicon-anode batteries into phones that much sooner and reinforce the idea that the smartphone may just be ready to take on the PC.

Updated on 8-22-2013 by Jeffrey Van Camp: The campaign ended at midnight last night. I’ve updated the article to reflect the final tally and ultimate end of the campaign. A final reflection from Mark Shuttleworth was added. 

Updated on 8-21-2013 by Jeffrey Van Camp: The campaign is at $12,350,000 with 13 hours to go. A reader has suggested that Indiegogo could extend the campaign, but we haven’t heard that this will happen yet.

Article originally published on 8-20-2013.

Product Review

Aston’s stunning DB11 V8 Volante proves exotic cars aren't just about lap times

With the DB11 Volante, Aston Martin’s marriage of luxury and performance is perhaps at its best, offering hustle that doesn’t feel rushed and refinement with emotion still intact.
Emerging Tech

These flying cars want to take your commute to new heights

The future is closer than you'd think: Companies around the world are working on flying car models, with many successful tests! Here are all the flying cars and taxis currently in development, and how they work!
Mobile

How to clean your iPhone’s charging port

What happens when your iPhone charger doesn't work? It's time to look at the charging port. Here's how to clean your iPhone's charging port: We'll go over the most successful methods and the safety tips you need to know.
Smart Home

Armenian startup Bluenero is fishing for funds for a smart aquarium

A new startup operating out of the Republic of Armenia has launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to design and manufacture a smart aquarium that automatically feeds fish and monitors water quality.
Mobile

The best weather apps for Android will keep you dry no matter where you go

You may not be able to change the weather, but you can at least be prepared for it. Check out our guide to the best weather apps for Android, so you'll always know what to expect when you step out the front door.
Mobile

Android 9.0 Pie is finally rolling out to the OnePlus 6

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Mobile

Hateful software kills our enthusiasm for newcomer Realme’s $155 Android phone

Realme is a new smartphone brand with an interesting start to life, as it closely mirrors that of OnePlus, a brand we admire. The Realme 2 is its second phone, and we've given it a try to see if it's a winner.
Mobile

Keep the iPhone XS display crack-free with these screen protectors

Apple might have proclaimed the iPhone XS's glass as being its most durable ever, but that's not going to stop you from wincing if you drop your phone. Stay protected with the best iPhone XS screen protectors.
Mobile

Apple iPhone XS Max vs. Huawei P20 Pro: Clash of the titans

Anyone seeking a great new smartphone with plenty of money to spend has two amazing options, but which is better for you? We pit the Apple iPhone XS Max vs. Huawei P20 Pro in various categories to help you choose.
Product Review

Don't let the bigger iPhones woo you away: The XS is still a masterpiece

Apple’s next smartphone is here -- the iPhone XS. We think it’s the perfect size for an iPhone, and it manages to impress with astounding performance, and sizable camera improvements.
Product Review

With its epic screen, Apple's iPhone XS Max is a phone you can live inside

The iPhone XS Max is here. Should you get the massive 6.5-inch iPhone from Apple? Or should you pick the smaller iPhone XS? We’ve been putting the Max through its paces to find out in our review.
Mobile

BlackBerry Key2 LE vs. BlackBerry Key2: Which productivity titan reigns supreme?

The Blackberry Key2 LE has many of the same features as its more expensive competitor, the BlackBerry Key2, yet comes in at $250 less. Which one should you choose? Here's how the BlackBerry Key2 LE and BlackBerry Key2 compare.
Mobile

Master your iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max with our favorite tips and tricks

If you're one of the lucky folks that managed to snag an iPhone XS or XS Max, you may be wondering how to use your new phone in a post-home button world. Here are a few of our favorite iPhone XS tips and tricks to get you started.
Mobile

How beneficial is ECG in the new Apple Watch? We asked an expert

The Apple Watch Series 4 is packed with features that make it the best smartwatch on the market, but just how valuable is the new ECG and heart-tracking functionality? We spoke to some experts to find out.