First came cellphones, then smartphones, and now the open source, Linux-powered Ubuntu and Google (GOOG) Android "superphone" that Canonical says will integrate a full desktop PC and mobile computing device into one handheld package. It's called Ubuntu Edge, and it could be coming soon, or not, depending on whether Canonical succeeds in raising $32 million in crowdsourced funding.
No, that's not a typo. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, is seeking millions of crowdsourced dollars to fund the Edge via a campaign on Indiegogo. And while raising such a large amount of capital through crowdsourcing may seem a bit odd for a company of Canonical's size, it makes more sense given Ubuntu's community-focused ethos.
The Indiegogo campaign also seems reasonable given that much of the cash raised will come in the form of what are essentially preorders for the Edge. Supporters who pledge $830 toward the Indiegogo campaign will receive an Edge when Canonical ships the devices, which it currently estimates to be in May 2014. Other pledge levels are available as well, starting at $20—though that won't get you much in the way of material reward.
$830 may seem like a lot for a phone, and it's hard to imagine the Edge competing successfully with typical Android and iOS phones at that price point. On the other hand, if Canonical is successful in communicating to consumers that the Edge is actually much more than a smartphone—that it can also become a complete, 100 percent real-deal PC when connected to a monitor—it might go far. And given the hardware specifications of the Edge—4GB of memory, 128GB storage, multiple CPU cores—$830, or about the cost of a midrange laptop, could actually be a value for a device that's both a powerful PC and a phone.
For the record, Canonical said the Edge will run Android when it is first introduced, with the Ubuntu Android app available for connecting to PCs. But "shortly after," the company noted, a software update will make it possible to boot the phone directly to Ubuntu itself. (Android will remain available as a separate boot option.)
The crowdsourcing campaign has raised about $700,000 of $32 million total at the time of writing and is ongoing until Wednesday, Aug. 21. If it fails, Canonical says it will cancel plans to roll out the Edge and instead "focus only on commercially available handsets." So Ubuntu phones should arrive either way, but whether they're as fully open and unprecedented as the Edge remains to be seen.
Whatever happens, Canonical deserves credit for innovation here. It has been clear for some time that the company hopes to make Ubuntu a single operating system that runs equally well on phones and PCs. But now, Canonical has gone beyond the software by building a device that is both a phone and a PC at the same time.
Will the Edge succeed? And more importantly, will Canonical make the obvious choice of marketing it with Lady Gaga's hit song? Stay tuned.