Ubuntu Edge: the begging bowl’s not big enough


Ubuntu Edge: the begging bowl's not big enough

There’s a worrying whiff of desperation surrounding Ubuntu’s attempts to expand beyond the PC. Ubuntu TV was unveiled 18 months ago and has yet to see a single taker, and now it appears Canonical has been forced to put out the begging bowl to get the Ubuntu Edge smartphone off the drawing board. Even that looks as though it could fall a long way short of its lofty $32 million target.

Canonical’s decision to crowdfund the Ubuntu Edge is plainly a last throw of the dice. At the launch of Ubuntu Phone in January, the company said it was in negotiations with potential hardware partners, but made no mention of attempting to drum up the funds itself. One can only conclude that Canonical failed to convince a sizeable phone manufacturer to take a risk on the OS, and decided to go it alone.

Can it convince enough people to part with hundreds of dollars to effectively pre-order a phone that will take the best part of a year to arrive? It seems doubtful. The crowdfunding project got off to a promising start when it racked up $3.2 million within the first 18 hours, but that flood of money has quickly slowed to a trickle. Now, almost 48 hours after the launch, the pot stands at $4.5 million and Canonical’s already been forced to sweeten the deal by lowering the price of the handset, from $830 to new price brackets of $625, $675 and $725. It’s hardly a fire sale, but it’s not an encouraging sign either.

Money talks in the smartphone business, and Canonical’s taking on three of the world’s biggest companies

Even if Canonical does manage to hit its target, the long-term prospects of Ubuntu’s phone venture are far from certain. Canonical is planning to make only 40,000 Ubuntu Edge handsets, which isn’t anywhere near large enough an audience to get developers excited. And if Canonical can’t find $32 million to fund the development of the handset, it certainly won’t be able to afford to wave huge cheques at developers, or run mainstream advertising campaigns to build momentum.

I’ve seen enough screenshots emerge from the developers of Ubuntu Phone to know that they’re working on something genuinely fresh and exciting, and I sincerely hope they succeed. But money talks in the smartphone business, and Canonical’s taking on three of the world’s biggest companies – Apple, Google and Microsoft – in a snarling bear pit of a market. Charity’s not going to cut it.

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