Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Ubuntu Edge is *Really* about

Canonical's Ubuntu Edge campaign on Indiegogo is breaking records left and right, and if it reaches its goal by August 21st, will break the all-time crowdfunding record by a huge margin. In just 12 hours, the campaign raised more than any other on Indiegogo and enough to place within the top 10 on Kickstarter. The phone Mark Shuttleworth has proposed contains some serious hardware and a gorgeous design. Clearly thousands of people want a piece of this vision, but like every project it has its detractors.

Ubuntu Edge is an ambitious project by a large company, two strikes against it in some people's books.
Why doesn't Canonical just fund it themselves and sell it once it's ready? Don't Canonical have more than enough? These people suggest Canonical should just take the risk themselves and release it when its ready.
For those who fear taking a risk on a project that might not succeed or think crowdfunding should be about the little guy, these ideas make sense. And yet, they completely miss the point of Ubuntu Edge!
This crowdfunding campaign isn't really about whether Canonical can afford to produce a limited-run phone. More than the phone itself, Ubuntu Edge is about showing the world that Ubuntu Phone has legs, that there is real demand for this. Even if Mark Shuttleworth can afford to fund Ubuntu Edge, he shouldn't. This campaign may be the greatest statement the community can possibly make to support Ubuntu Touch.
The Ubuntu community is being asked to show that Ubuntu isn't just a great open source project with a track record for excellent software engineering, but a community willing to support hardware development.  The community is proving to OEMs that there is a viable market for hardware with Ubuntu Touch and proving to carriers that people want to buy this hardware.
If tens of thousands of people will pay unsubsidized prices for a high-end smartphone that won't ship for almost a year, breaking all crowdfunding records in the process, that sends a powerful message to OEMs, to carriers, to the media, and to app developers. There is a long road ahead for Ubuntu Edge, but already, the community is sending a clear message. In less than a day, the Ubuntu community has proved that there are thousands of people willing to take a chance on Ubuntu Phone.

I'm also quite confident in Canonical's ability to deliver on their ambitious plan. Canonical has already proven themselves quite capable at bringing Ubuntu up on existing hardware, so their ability to make Ubuntu work isn't really even a question. This will be their first original piece of hardware, but Canonical's OEM partners will probably handle much of the electronics design and manufacturing. Canonical's keen eye for design and concern for usability details is apparent in the hardware decisions revealed so far, and they will no doubt be very involved with the development of the hardware. However, they will likely be working with partners who will know how to engineer the hardware and manufacture the device in volume, which is no doubt the plan.

Right now, the greatest uncertainty for Ubuntu Edge is whether or not the Ubuntu community can step up, break the crowdfunding record, and reach the goal Canonical set for the campaign. The first day was a tremendous success,  reaching more than 10% of the total, but campaigns generally slow down in the middle, and it will be a long road ahead. Canonical and the Ubuntu community have grabbed the attention of mainstream media with a lot of positive momentum already. No doubt OEMs are watching carefully now. Success will almost certainly guarantee future Ubuntu Touch devices, while failure here would hurt Ubuntu's chances with OEMs.
Pre-orders are more than just a chance to get a cutting-edge phone with Ubuntu Touch, Android, and desktop-morphing capabilities. With every pre-order backers vote with their wallets for Ubuntu's success. The people who back this campaign are saying “I believe in Ubuntu Touch, and I'm willing to take the risk of not knowing exactly what it will be or when it will arrive because this is worth it.” Only a small fraction of the potential market for Ubuntu phones will be willing to buy an unsubsidized device sight unseen, and so the effect of every pre-order is magnified because it signals many more potential customers down the road. There may never be another time when voting with your wallet will make more difference for Ubuntu than right now.
This more than anything is why Mark Shuttleworth is asking for the community's help. It's entirely possible he could fund a production run of 50,000 phones and sell them all, but that wouldn't send a very strong a message to OEMs and carriers, much less the mainstream media or the general public. Mark Shuttleworth and the rest of Canonical aren't sending a plea for help but a call to arms, rallying for everyone to join together in support of a greater cause.

And that is the point.

-David Jordan


  1. I think the combination of this article and the new $625 pledge point is going to lead me to contribute in the next hour.

    Let's show the world!

  2. I think the combination of this article and the new $625 pledge point is going to lead me to contribute in the next hour.

    Let's show the world!

  3. Great piece of article.

    Let's show the world!

  4. Love it. Already donated once (a small amount) but I'll probably donate again after my next paycheck. It won't be extravagant, but I'd love to see this become a reality!

  5. I have not used an Ubuntu distro in years, but I love open source. I donated on day one without even thinking. Your article expresses exactly why I put $600 of my hard earned cash. We in open source need to put up or shut up. I continue to put up and hope the rest of the community stop talking and start acting. Thanks for saying what needed to be said. Let us not only dream big, but lets live large.

  6. Excellent post! I've been making a similar point: the myth persists that Linux users/enthusiasts will not pay anything for their software (or anything else). Look at some of the commentary after Monday's announcement. If this drive succeeds, it goes a long way to exploding that myth.

  7. Absolutely my PoV
    Couldn't have said it better. Thanks for the well written articel :)