Talk about a spectacular failure: The crowdfunding campaign for the Ubuntu Edge smartphone now has the distinction of being both the largest crowdfunding campaign ever and the most below-target campaign ever.
The Ubuntu Edge campaign, hosted on Indiegogo, ended today with $12.8 million raised from more than 27,000 backers, $19 million short of its ambitious $32 million funding goal. Since the campaign failed, that money will be returned to backers (Indiegogo also won’t be charging its usual fee for missing a funding goal).
The Ubuntu Edge phone sounded like something out of a geek’s dream: It was going to dual-boot Android and Ubuntu Mobile, a slick-looking operating system that debuted earlier this year. The Edge was also going to have 128 gigabytes of storage (at the high end, most smartphones today offer 64GB at the most) and sport 4 gigabytes of RAM. If those sound like specifications for a PC, that’s exactly the point — the phone also would have functioned like a traditional computer when connected to a monitor.
But for all of its ambition, it was clear pretty early on that Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution, wouldn’t be able to make its funding goals for the project. The campaign reached $3.4 million on its first day by promising backers an Ubuntu Edge smartphone for $600, but contributions quickly slowed. Canonical eventually added more pricing tiers, which led to the campaign to reach $10.3 million last week, surpassing the Pebble smartwatch as the biggest gadget crowdfunding campaign (a campaign for Star Citizen, an online game from the Wing Commander creator, recently raised $15 million as well).
Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu’s chief executive, was also hopeful that a hardware manufacturer would swoop in to save the project, according to The Guardian. Clearly, that never happened. Bloomberg ended up grabbing one of the “Enterprise” funding slots for $80,000, but beyond that the project didn’t attract many big names.
It’s not hard to see why the Ubuntu Edge campaign failed: Shuttleworth was basically selling a dream, especially since Canonical had no experience developing hardware. He also ended up relying far too much on the crowdfunding model when he should have been courting help from other tech firms. (Did he really think that an expensive phone from an enthusiast company could have raised $32 million?)
Looking ahead, Shuttleworth tells the Guardian that he’s going to target Ubuntu Mobile for the 25 percent of users who only use their phone as phones. Yes, that sounds crazy to me too.
“We’re talking about mid- to high-end phones — none of these is a superphone [like the Edge],” Shuttleworth told the British paper. “The Edge is a concept car, not quite like Formula 1, which 40% of people could drive. But we’re also working on putting a phone that’s the equivalent of a mass-market car on the road. I would very much like to see the Edge, but I didn’t expect that the majority of Ubuntu Mobile users would come through the Edge — but through retail. Frankly, we’d see handset makers rebadge their Android phones and put Ubuntu Mobile on it.”
While Nokia, Mozilla (with Firefox OS), and Android phone makers are trying to bring smartphone features to cheaper devices, Shuttleworth seems more focused on offering the best dumb phone platform out there.
When asked by the Guardian about Ubuntu Mobile’s unique seliing point, Shuttleworth said it would be “a crisp clean experience that does everything you want in a basic phone and is part of the portfolio of experience of desktop and tablet.”
I’m not entirely sure why Shuttleworth is pushing the idea of a basic phone so hard, since Ubuntu Mobile will feature “smartphone” capabilities like a web browser and other Linux apps. I’m also not sure how many basic phone users would want to convert their device into a desktop.
There’s plenty of potential with Ubuntu Mobile, but I’m hoping the astounding failure of this campaign will eventually get Shuttleworth’s head out of the clouds and back into solving real technology problems.