Linux

Ubuntu Edge: A case of mistaken identity

Jack Wallen has doubts about the wisdom of Canonical forging ahead with the Ubuntu Edge.

I recently penned a post titled, “10 criteria Ubuntu Edge must meet if it's going to succeed”. A few days after that post went live, someone pointed out a fact to me that was – dare I say – bit disheartening. That fact? Ubuntu Edge is for enthusiasts only and will not be made available to the public at large.

ubuntu-edge-13-6_610x618.jpg

Let me say that again: Ubuntu Edge will not be made available to the public at large. That's right, one of the most technologically advanced smartphones on the planet will only be sold to the “enlightened few”. Of course, I should preface this by re-stating a rather well-known fact: I am a fan of both Ubuntu and Canonical. But this choice, to me, seems a bit at odds with where Canonical is driving Ubuntu and is counter-productive to two major factors at this point in the Ubuntu life span:

  • Ubuntu is supposed to be for the masses.

  • The Ubuntu phone is nowhere near ready.

That being said, why on earth is Canonical hoping to break numerous records with a device that few will actually own – and do this at the expense of the development of both the desktop operating system AND the Ubuntu phone that could be a major game-changer in the world of smartphones. From my perspective, and I may be wrong about this, Canonical should be focusing on their products in this order:

  • Ubuntu 13.10 – they have a lot of users to win back over and a lot to prove with the choice of migrating to Mir.

  • Ubuntu Phone/tablet – they need to prove they can create a viable mobile option ready for the masses.

  • Ubuntu Edge – this should be something developed after the Ubuntu Phone is released and proved to be accepted technology.

It was a vastly bold move for Canonical to attempt to venture into a technology space driven by two major players – iOS and Android. Without so much as writing a single line of code, Canonical was already up against tougher competition than it has ever faced. Even now they only have a few carriers showing interest in what they are doing. Not one carrier has actually signed on to say they would welcome the Ubuntu Phone. That pretty much means all of the promises Canonical has made with the smartphone are worthless at the moment. Until a carrier steps up to the plate, the Ubuntu Phone is vaporware. So why is it that Canonical thinks leapfrogging themselves and going for the super phone is a wise use of resources and time?

It's not. What's worse, if Ubuntu Edge fails (for any reason), it will put a serious wrench in the works of everything they are working to produce.

I don't begrudge Canonical for aiming higher than any other company. But I would think it better business to make sure their cart is placed carefully behind the horse. That is not to say they shouldn't take risks. We all know most companies aren't in a position of taking risks (which is one of the main reasons why Canonical decided to crowd-fund Ubuntu Edge – so they could take a major risk), but this risk offers a seriously razor sharp edge with which Canonical could slice their own throats. Should Ubuntu Edge backfire, how many people will be willing to trust a standard smartphone developed by Canonical? And how much of a credibility hit will Ubuntu Linux take?

I have to wonder if Canonical bothered to ask themselves these questions before leaping into an arena that contains only one player – themselves. The super phone can wait. In fact, I'm fairly certain the vast majority of users would happily sit on their hands for this device given the promise of the regular old, every day, Ubuntu Phone. Give the end users a solid smartphone that proves itself worthy of playing with the big dogs … and then crush the big dogs with the super phone. Once you do that, people will take everything else you do seriously.

Fail and you'll be a laughing stock, with everyone saying “I told you so!”

Personally, I want Canonical and Ubuntu to succeed. Ubuntu and Ubuntu Unity are the only distribution/desktop I use. If the Ubuntu Phone arrives, I'd love to have one. Ubuntu Edge? Although it's as sexy as any piece of technology I've seen, I'd much rather have something practical for day to day usage first – then give me something drool-worthy. First, prove that playing in the smartphone arena isn't a case of mistaken identity. Then drop-kick Android and iOS into next year with Ubuntu Edge. 


About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

17 comments
evan.summers
evan.summers

As a free marketing exercise, to gain the attention of carriers et al, and to start a conversation about convergence - it's a huge winner for Canonical. I don't think it will backfire because Canonical can say, "We thought of something niche to spur innovation of converged superphones, but it didn't get greenlighted, so no harm no foul - anyway our plans for the masses were orthogonal and are unaffected - if anything, they are spurred on."

Having said that, for those of us who want the campaign to succeed so we get our Ubuntu Edge, it is a disappointment. But we aren't the masses. Nevertheless, Canonical may yet have a rewarding plan for us.

Regarding Canonical's development priorities, we know they are focussed on Mir and Ubuntu Phone OS. While i use Ubuntu and Unity too (at home and at work), i don't think 13.10, or the desktop per se, matters so much. What's important is the creation of a converged OS that runs phone, tablet, desktop and server.

stuart_lesnett@lesnett.
stuart_lesnett@lesnett.

I find it interesting that with the current problems with the last releases of Ubuntu (12 & 13) that you have remained so quite.  Why just getting the monitors to work correctly is a major problem when running 4 or more system with as many monitor manufactures. I still have one DELL 24" and one ACER that can't seem to keep the resolution let alone my 10" tablet.  All one has to do is read the forums.  Yet hardly a word from you about the basic changes only to talk about the large subsystem.  My android tablet is working fine, I'm not about to change it, lets get the basic system components working correctly prior to approaching my smart phone, maybe even the sound and TV working  right.

droidfromsd
droidfromsd

I like their chutzpah and BTW it is a better Op system. Go for it.

LinuxGuy2.5
LinuxGuy2.5

The site doesn't say that the Ubuntu Edge won't [ever] be available to the masses... it simply says that [at launch] the device will only be available to those who participate in the $32million crowd funding campaign.... that does not in any way stop Canonical from running another production of the phones once the crowd funded bunch get into the hands of the supports and start working.  Once their techy friends see it, touch it, and try it everyone of them will want one.... then a carrier or carriers will take notice.  That (I believe) is the play here.  Canonical isn't getting enough attention from the carriers... so why not build their own (unlocked carrier unrestricted) prototype run paid for by the people that really want it to succeed.

If the device is as awesome as it looks on paper... once it is out there and people start knocking on their carriers doors to buy one... those carriers will take notice, and they will take a second look at Canonical and Ubuntu Edge/Ubuntu Phone.

That's my take.  I think Canonical is making a great move here... getting a device built at no real cost to themselves, and getting it out there.  Making people (carriers) notice.

thomasjbs
thomasjbs

It won't matter if they fail.   How many times has apple failed and yet - they're still here.  The iPad has no management features after 3 years and they're still here.  The android has USB - direct access to Network shares - setup in minutes - 3 years ago - and the iPad still can't do it without some pre-defined app on both sides.  Verizon, AT&T - they all fail - but it's ok - because: they fix it in the next model and people have short memories.

FlyingSheepOnUbuntu
FlyingSheepOnUbuntu

I think that it is more a question of chicken and egg than cart before horse:. Ubuntu Edge is intended as a powerful proof-of-concept for Ubuntu Phone., and should help side-step the chicken and egg dilema.

At the moment Ubuntu Phone, however cool it may look (and it looks mighty cool) is just vapourware because no carrier actively supports it with a real phone.

If Edge the campaign succeeds, then Canonical can approach phone manufacturers / carriers with concrete evidence that there is demand for a high-end convergence phone, and thus encourage these manufacturers / carriers to produce their own phones running Ubuntu Phone.

Thus I think the true goal is not the Edge itself, but "Son-of-Edge". Maybe the HTC 1 2014 and the Galaxy S5 will be available with Ubuntu Phone alongside Android?

V1Dar
V1Dar

If most people only are willing to commit max $750 USD then there will not be any Ubuntu Edge. Easy as that. Canonical can't give away Ubuntu Edge for less than it cost to produce it. They have already given away the cost to design it, and the cost to get in contact with the people that can make this happen.

But why shouldn't you be willing to pay more than $750 USD for a high spec. phone like this. It has amazing specs, and it is cheaper than an iPhone with lower specs.

An Apple iPhone 5 with 64 GB costs $899,99. Max price for Ubuntu Edge with 128 GB is $830. Apart from that Ubuntu Edge will have the best multi-core processor available when produced, satire glass, and at least 4 GB RAM.

At work you can, in most companies, use Ubuntu as an thinclient and run Windows applications such as MS Office straight from the Ubuntu desktop, and run it like a native application.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtNhlVn3ETQ&t=3m4s

The company will only have to support you with one phone, instead of one phone and one laptop. Here is a link about the quality of the phone:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYM7tCjp0Go

jaynuman
jaynuman

Not sure you really grasp what they are trying to do with the Edge. It's not about competing (it'll dual boot into Android anyway) or having all the major carriers (Verizon gave a head nod to the Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group, somewhat interested). It's more about innovation & convergence. It wouldn't be wise for Canonical to go balls deep and attempt to compete against the major OEMs & mobile OSs with the multi-billion dollar market reach they have in place. However getting the current user base to market a product, which was crowd sourced carries less risk. It also enables them to test the waters and gauge the market. The Edge is more of an R&D campaign, which is being funded by those who want the phone. Sadly it may never make it. With most Linux distros, the user base really isn't motivated to open their pockets up for a free service, let alone a phone that when compared to the current market prices & specs, is priced within reason if not better.

cytochro
cytochro

My belief is that the Edge is just a campaign to show the phone companies that there is a least a decent niche market interest in a high end Ubuntu phone and not just an entry level FirefoxOS style phone. The real question is will open Linux always be something a user has to install on computer/phone or whether there will be an actual consumer product that ships with open Linux (beyond the great folks at ZaReason, System76, and the Sputnik project).

guillegr123
guillegr123

I applaud Canonical's bet on innovation over success.

evan.summers
evan.summers

@LinuxGuy2.5 Well said. Indeed, even if the campaign fails, they have gauged interest, and could still plan a limited production run available for pre-order to "kickstart" their convergence play. Having said that, it sounds like they have other plans in progress with OEMs and carriers, perhaps for the same chassis but more typical specs e.g. 2GB RAM for ARM and 16Gb storage, which they might prefer to focus on. 

V1Dar
V1Dar

@FlyingSheepOnUbuntu

Even if no carrier actively supports Ubuntu Edge, you can still use it with any carrier. But that is not the point with tish campaign.

"If Edge the campaign succeeds, then Canonical can approach phone manufacturers / carriers with concrete evidence that there is demand for a high-end convergence phone, and thus encourage these manufacturers / carriers to produce their own phones running Ubuntu Phone."

That is the point. This will prove that there is a demand for high-end devices with Ubuntu/Android that can also work as a desktop computer. And I think they have already proven that.

aroc
aroc

@cytochro If only we could install some form of Ubuntu on a phone as easily as on a PC!  Then it could be shown to work.  

I almost could have done that with the Motorola Webtop on my Bionic phone with "webtop2sd" that lets one run an ARM version of Ubuntu from an SD card when the phone is docked in the notebook-like Lapdock (11.6" 1366x768 screen with full keyboard), but that seems to only work from the older GingerBread Android base.


C'mon, Canonical - make a version easy to install on some of the more common Android phones to enable a DIY guerilla phone OS "campaign".


Hmm - maybe I should take another look at Linux-on-Android...

evan.summers
evan.summers

@aroc I believe they do that, targetting Nexus 4 (and Nexus 7) as "reference" devices. I read that Canonical staff are "eating their own dog food" using Nexus 4. 

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