Why did the Ubuntu Edge fail?

Last week, The Ubuntu Edge mobile phone crowdfunding project failed to hit its goal of $32m.

The Edge would have been a smartphone with 128GB storage, running both Android and Ubuntu Mobile, and capable of working as a desktop computer when plugged into a large screen.

But only Bloomberg came forward as a company prepared to put substantial money into the project, pledging for one "Enterprise" slot which would have cost $80,000 and given it 115 phones. The majority of funding came from individuals pledging to buy a phone at between $600 (the first-day price, where 5,044 were snapped up) and $830, with a number of prices in between.

So despite the record-setting pledges, what went wrong for the Edge and Canonical, the company that gave the world Ubuntu?


It could be argued that one of the major causes of not hitting the target was the lack of involvement by big businesses. As mentioned above, only Bloomberg came forward with the reverence to pledge $80,000. This is out of 50 pledge slots for big businesses.

"Bloomberg supports open innovation and initiatives, such as Ubuntu Edge, that align with our software development and business priorities," said Shawn Edwards, Chief Technology Officer at Bloomberg LP, before the failure.

"With this investment, Bloomberg developers will contribute to an open technology initiative that could benefit our clients and have a powerful impact on the future of mobile computing."

It would have been very important on a project this size to have a number of large enterprise orders backing it, not only for the money but for the authenticity, as enterprise pledges reinforce the support of the individual backers.

So if only one big backer came forward, there must have been something fundamentally wrong with the Edge. Is that flaw hidden in Shawn Edwards quote, mobile computing?

Was the Ubuntu Edge a solution looking for a problem?

Some people were having trouble actually grasping the concept of the Ubuntu Edge. It was a mobile phone-cum-desktop computer which many people didn’t see the point of. We have laptops, we have tablets and we definitely have smartphones. Yes, people want a powerful PC they can carry around in their pocket, but then when you get to where you’re going with it you need a mouse, and a screen.

And a keyboard?

But then it’s not a phone so what if someone wants to ring me?

I may as well just have a regular smartphone. Ubuntu was trying to solve a problem that wasn’t really there. What happens if you’re typing up work but then want to run off and take a photo of something with your smartphone that has a camera. THAT is convergence, a cameraphone. Not a desktop-phone.

"The Ubuntu Edge failure tells us two things. Firstly, hybridity and convergence are two different things. Hybridity is the process of mixing things together, regardless of the result. Convergence is what we call it when hybridity works," says Matt Baxter-Reynolds on Zdnet.com.

Then we must look at the fact that 50% of individual phone orders came in the fist 50 or so hours of the project. After that, interest slumped and the target grew further and further out of reach for the Edge.
I believe this is down to the small community that Ubuntu actually have. The average smartphone user has no idea what Ubuntu or even Linux is, and why it would be different to an Android OS. Would it even be different at all? The general user doesn’t want to tinker about with dual-booting.

In a market dominated by Apple and Android, Ubuntu means nothing to the people you could have had the power to allow the Edge to meet its target. Perhaps if the edge was a tangible product, not a vague hardware concept, then it would have been a success. Most successful Kickstarters are novelty or not integral to people’s lives. Mobile phones ARE integral so are people really going to bet hundreds of dollars on one? It’s not even manufactured yet. With the individual unit cost a large sum of money, and the specifications not even entirely clear, who would put forward that kind of money?

So there we have it. The simple, plain reasons why the Edge failed to succeed. It didn’t pull in enough people, it was priced too high, and didn’t get enough enterprise backing. Canonical were unfortunately unavailable for comment.

Good news for supporters, however, is that Ubuntu mobils software is still being developed and many operators are looking into it for 2014. Shuttleworth didn’t lose too much on this campaign. He tested the water, and put a feeler out their for what might have been a world-changing mobile product. Maybe it’s now up to someone else to take the reigns and see it through, much like Elon Musk’s Hyperloop.

Type: White Paper


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