Thirty days ago on July 22, I was on a phone call with Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu Linux, talking about his audacious plan to raise $32 million to build a phone. The plan was to raise the money through community crowdfunding site Indiegogo to build the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. The Ubuntu Edge was planned to be a dual-boot device including both Android and Ubuntu on it.
It’s a plan that has now failed.
After 30 days, the effort raised $12.8 million, not even hitting half of the target amount. The promise of the crowdfunding was that if the full $32 million was raised, Canonical would build 40,000 phones and give them to its Indiegogo supporters. On July 22, Shuttleworth very specifically said that if the 30-day campaign was not successful, the Ubuntu Edge would not be built.
Canonical pulled out all the stops to get this funded, too. Earlier this month, Canonical landed financial services firm Bloomberg LP as a contributor to the effort. Bloomberg contributed $80,000 to the campaign.
Though Shuttleworth did not succeed in raising $32 million, the Ubuntu Edge effort was successful in a number of other regards.
“We raised $12,809,906, making the Edge the world’s biggest-ever fixed crowdfunding campaign,” Shuttleworth wrote in a note on the Indiegogo site. “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.”
Shuttleworth also pledged that other Ubuntu phones will arrive in 2014, and that’s the catch as I see it. When I was on the phone with Shuttleworth a month ago, I asked him what the difference was between Ubuntu for Android (an effort he announced in February 2012) and the Ubuntu Phone (first announced in January 2013). I didn’t get a straight answer from Shuttleworth, other than a comment that the Ubuntu Edge would be community funded innovation.
You see the reality of the situation is that Shuttleworth has been talking about Ubuntu on phones for nearly two years.
When I sat down for a live video interview with Shuttleworth at the OpenStack Portland Summit earlier this year, I saw one of those “other” phones, but it’s not something that is publicly available to the masses. The Ubuntu Edge was, in part, an effort to kick-start Canonical’s phone platforms with some public relations and community groundswell.
The high level of media attention that the Ubuntu Edge campaign garnered, when seen in that light, makes the effort a real success, even if it didn’t reach its financial goals.
So what’s next? What’s next is what Shuttleworth has been talking about since long before his marketing people ever had a hint of the Ubuntu Edge campaign. What’s next is the Ubuntu Phone (not the Edge) that many of us have lusted after since we first heard about it earlier this year. That’s a device platform that we’ll have to wait for until some point in 2014 to finally see.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.