The developers of the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system want to build a phone. It’s called the Ubuntu Edge, and you may have already heard of it. But it turns out the plans for Edge might make it the most ambitious smartphone ever designed… if it ever gets made.
Here’s the short version: It’s a smartphone that dual-boots Ubuntu and Android, works as a mobile device and as a desktop computer, and has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. But phones like that don’t just fall from the sky. In order to build it, Ubuntu’s parent company Canonical is turning to crowd-funding platform Indiegogo in hopes of raising $32 million from people interested in the project.
If Canonical doesn’t raise $32 million in 31 days, then the company will just stick to what it already does: making software. The Ubuntu Edge phone project will be scrapped, and the company will try to get partners to use its software on their phones and tablets.
To put that goal in perspective, no crowd-funded project I’m aware of has ever raised that much money that quickly. The Pebble smartwatch project raised over $10 million in a little over a month. The Ouya video game console hit $8.5 million in a month. And the Veronica Mars movie generated $5.7 million in a month.
Ubuntu has some name recognition, a lot of folks have been asking for a phone that you can connect to a keyboard and monitor to use as a desktop, and many open source advocates have been less than thrilled with existing options such as Android. But $32 million is still a lot of money to raise.
That said, if the project does go into production, here’s what you’d get with an Ubuntu Edge smartphone:
- 4.5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel display
- 4GB of RAM
- 128GB of storage
- 8MP low-light rear camera and 2MP front-facing camera
- 802.11n dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE, NFC, GPS
- MHL connector and 3.5mm audio jack
- 4.9″ x 2.5″ x 0.35″
The phone would have more RAM or storage than any other on the market. That makes sense when you consider the fact that Canonical expects to offer a dock that lets you use this system as a full-fledged desktop computer by connecting a monitor, mouse, and keyboard.
It has a metal case, a silicone-anode Li-Ion batter, which Canonical says allows for longer battery life.
While the company has been working hard on an Ubuntu Phone operating system, it’s interesting that the plan is to let you dual-boot Ubuntu and Android. That’s probably a smart move, since Ubuntu Phone OS is still very rough around the edges and doesn’t support many third party apps at the moment. By booting into Android, you basically have a fully functional smartphone running a mature operating system.
If you don’t care about that, you can use Ubuntu’s user interface to make phone calls, surf the web, and perform other basic tasks. Eventually there should be more third party apps for the platform as well.
Since Ubuntu Phone OS is based on the same software as Ubuntu for desktop and laptop computers, all you need to do is connect the system to a dock to start running desktop Linux apps. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to run apps like GIMP or Amarok which aren’t optimized for small touchscreens in phone mode, but there is a terminal app available in phone mode and I suspect people will hack the OS to allow support for all sorts of apps whether the phone is docked or not.
That’s assuming the phone ever goes into production. If Canonical meets its fundraising goal, the team hopes to deliver the first phones in May, 2014.
The first 5000 backers to pledge $600 or more can try to reserve one of those first phones. But they’ll need to pledge the money by the afternoon of Tuesday, July 23rd. After that you’ll need to pledge $830 to get the phone.
While that’s a lot of money, top tiers smartphones tend to sell for $500 and up when you buy them unlocked and unsubsidized. And no existing top tier phone has the kind of memory or storage the Ubuntu Edge is expected to ship with. At least not yet.
Note: Given the high asking price of pledges, now seems as good a time as any to point out that crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are not stores. You’re not “pre-ordering” a phone when you pledge $600 or $830. You’re making a donation to Canonical in the hopes that your money will help them bring the thing they’re hawking to market.
The Ubuntu Edge phone doesn’t exist yet. You’re pledge helps make it a little more likely that one day it will.
If all goes according to plan, you’ll get a phone next year as a “reward.” If Canonical reaches its fundraising goal but still failsl to bring the project to fruition, you may not get your phone on time… or at all.
Canonical could also change the specs, design, or other elements of the device before launch.
So if you want to help Canonical build a phone, by all means donate. Just make sure that you’re only doing it if you can afford to spend hundreds of dollars to support a project with the understanding that you may never get the exact item you’d hoped to bring into the world.