Smartphone companies have it pretty rough – they’ve got to sink millions into research and development every year, all in the hope of making their next shiny touchscreen gewgaw the fastest, slimmest, smartest, prettiest one ever. And every year we eat it all up, and take what we’re given.
But Canonical, the folks behind the incredibly popular Ubuntu Linux distro, isn’t your average phone smartphone company. It doesn’t have a huge production budget like Samsung or Apple, so it decided to crowdfund the creation of its first phone. Turns out that’s not the only thing they’re doing differently – Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth is currently fielding questions on Reddit, and he’s expressed interest in having backers of this current project getting some sort of say over what goes in future models.
And thus, Mark may have just come up with the coolest backer perk ever. Quoth Shuttleworth:
“This first version of the Edge is to prove the concept of crowdsourcing ideas for innovation, backed by crowdfunding. If it gets greenlighted, then I think we’ll have an annual process by which the previous generation backers get to vote on the spec for the next generation of Edge.”
In case you haven’t been following the story, the Edge is an awfully handsome concept for a phone that will run Ubuntu and Android and sport a sapphire glass-covered 4.5-inch 1280 720 display, along with the “fastest available” multi-core mobile processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The internet being what it is, Redditors couldn’t help but throw out bits of hardware for Shuttleworth and the Edge team to consider for the current model anyway. IR blaster? A “cool idea,” he says. Wireless charging? Probably not going to happen.
Shuttleworth was pretty forthcoming when it came to lingering questions about the Edge’s design and proposed rollout. As it happens, the team is still having trouble figuring out what sort of speaker system to throw into the thing (my two cents: the closer to HTC’s Boomsound setup the better), but it Canonical has asked potential carrier partners to agree to take note of a set of conditions that should minimize bloatware if the Edge is ever picked up and sold with long-term contracts.
Now this all hinges on the notion that Canonical was right in thinking that enough people would believe in a company that has never made a smartphone before to basically pre-order one for (at least) $675. In a way, this is a perfect move – if the project hits critical mass, everyone gets a phone. If it doesn’t, well, no harm no foul. The crowdfunding movement has given a software company a shot at really making a mark in an industry dominated by giants, some of which are already feeling the pinch because their pricey flagship devices perhaps aren’t selling in the astronomical numbers they were hoping for.
And so far, things appear to be going rather well. Canonical’s Indiegogo campaign only went live three days ago and Ubuntu fans have already chipped in just a hair under $6 million. Of course, there’s no guarantee that sort of traction will continue for any serious length of time – the company has already had to add some less expensive device pricing tiers to keep the campaign from flaming out too soon, and it’s still got a ways to go before it hits the $32 million goal.
(Oh, and in case you were wondering, Shuttleworth seems to be tackling nearly every question being thrown at him – no Rampart shenanigans here.)
Canonical has finally brought Ubuntu to the mobile world, and not as a tiny mobile OS for use on a 4-inch display – no – for desktop use FROM that mobile device. What Ubuntu is doing here is sitting on an Android device (they used a Motorola Atrix 2 for testing purposes, ironically enough*) which reveals the software only when the device is plugged into a large display with its HDMI port. This build works as a virtualized environment as an app in Android 2.3 Gingerbread AOSP build at the kernel level.
*The reason this should strike you as odd is that Motorola has been the only group thus far to present a similar bit of functionality for Android, their own Webtop interface popping up whenever you plug in a Motorola smartphone from the past year. This Ubuntu build is not its own operating system, and Canonical has no plans to create any hardware surrounding the system it’s presented this week. Instead you’ll be getting what’s very much a desktop experience run straight from your smartphone to a larger display, it having windows and everything, running all the applications you’re used to running on your smartphone.
You can still get emails, text messages, and the like, but here you’ve got the added awesomeness of being able to have more than one application open at once on the same screen along with Ubuntu’s simplicity in operating. The requirements for this system to be working are at least a dual-core chipset, at least 512MB of memory, and at the moment it appears that Canonical is focusing on ARM-based chips.
Canonical has also been vocal about how this release will not be open source as Ubuntu is otherwise, instead this being an application that will be coming pre-installed on devices in what they hope is the near future. Canonical will be working with manufacturers and/or carriers to get this app working on future handsets for HDMI use. Hopefully we’ll see this action in the first half of 2012, and perhaps we’ll have some competition from Google’s own Jellybean system.