Ubuntu Edge falls $20 million short: now what?

Canonical’s bold attempt to crowdfund the Ubuntu Edge handset has missed its target by almost $20 million, leaving the company’s smartphone ambitions in doubt.

Canonical aimed to raise $32 million to fund the development of its next-generation smartphone. Instead, it raised only $12.8 million by last night’s deadline, achieving only 40% of the target.

The company was attempting to raise the money by effectively pre-selling handsets to both individuals and companies, but it seems it couldn’t convince enough people to part with hundreds of dollars for a prototype smartphone that wouldn’t arrive until spring 2014.

Canonical says all those who pledged money would be refunded within five days.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth insists the crowdfunding attempt wasn’t a failure. “We raised $12,809,906, making the Edge the world’s biggest ever fixed crowdfunding campaign,” he wrote on the Ubuntu Edge project page. “Let’s not lose sight of what an achievement that is. Close to 20,000 people believed in our vision enough to contribute hundreds of dollars for a phone months in advance, just to help make it happen.”

Nor is Shuttleworth giving up on the smartphone project. “Most importantly, the big winner from this campaign is Ubuntu. While we passionately wanted to build the Edge to showcase Ubuntu on phones, the support and attention it received will still be a huge boost as other Ubuntu phones start to arrive in 2014. Thousands of you clearly want to own an Ubuntu phone and believe in our vision of convergence, and rest assured you won’t have much longer to wait.”

Canonical will now have to try and convince a handset manufacturer to take a gamble on Ubuntu, with Shuttleworth claiming that “all of the support and publicity has continued to drive our discussions with some major manufacturers”.

However, Shuttleworth claimed the company was in discussions with manufacturers when Ubuntu Phone OS was first unveiled in January, but none have yet been willing to commit to the project.

Likewise, Ubuntu TV, which was first unveiled in January 2012, has yet to be adopted by any television manufacturer.

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