Ubuntu Edge: Three big takeaways on the cross-over Android device

The Ubuntu Edge wants to break through barriers and smash records. We boil down the three key takeaways.

Ubuntu Edge desktop software
Image: Canonical Ltd.

This could be the mobile device that finally has enough power and moxy to replace a PC, because it can act just like one.

With the Ubuntu Edge, that's exactly what Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth would like you to believe. Announced on Monday, the Ubuntu Edge is a high-powered Android smartphone that will also dock and provide a full desktop experience using Ubuntu. It runs bleeding edge hardware squarely aimed at enthusiasts and it has launched one of the world's largest crowdfunding campaigns to date in order to make it happen.

Whether Shuttleworth is right or wrong, it's impossible to ignore the ambitiousness of what Ubuntu is trying to pull off. And, there's a possibility that it could empower early adopters and power users to have a bigger voice in product development in the tech industry.

Here are my three big takeaways from Shuttleworth's announcement about the Ubuntu Edge:

1. It goes deep on phone and PC convergence

The Ubuntu Edge wants to be the first phone that can dock and serve as a full PC replacement and Shuttleworth believes that the hardware is now capable enough to handle it and that Ubuntu can do the hardware/software integration to succeed where others have failed.

Overall, the big question still hanging out there will be whether the device can deliver all day battery life as a phone while packing all of that power it needs to act like a grown-up computer.

Ubuntu and Android
Image: Canonical Ltd.

2. It wants to connect enthusiasts with future technologies

There has been a lot of teeth gnashing in the tech industry lately about

So, what Ubuntu is proposing is a low-volume smartphone filled with bleeding edge components and crowdfunded by technology enthusiasts and professionals. That's why Ubuntu Edge is packed with laptop-level power, a scratchless sapphire crystal screen (only diamond is a harder substance), dual global LTE antennas, and the most effective camera and 4.5-in display that Ubuntu can gets its hands on in the months ahead. The Ubuntu Edge will also feature a main body that is made out of a single piece of textured metal.

Shuttleworth offered up an analogy for what Ubuntu is trying to accomplish:

"In the motor car industry we have Formula One to test new technology but the mobile industry has nothing like that. There's no premium segment for expert drivers. It's like everyone is driving mass-produced sedans. We don't have a consumer test-bed for cutting edge technologies but we do have a new mechanism for driving innovation: crowd-funding. Since the Ubuntu vision of convergence for the phone and the PC will push the limits of mobile computing and since we're working with industry already and since millions of you are passionate about the latest and greatest phone technology — software and hardware — we're in a perfect position together to change the way innovation comes to the mobile industry."

The idea is that if Ubuntu can crowdfund some of these advances into an exclusive small-run device that it could also force the larger manufacturers to innovate more quickly in adopting new technologies. Ubuntu doesn't sound like it actually wants to get into the phone business. It said that it has an experienced contract manufacturer who is producing the Ubuntu Edge.

The question is whether there's enough cutting edge stuff in the Ubuntu Edge to get technophiles to pay the equivalent of full retail price for a high-end smartphone. There's also the issue of whether some mainstream phone makers might be able to pre-empt the Ubuntu Edge by pre-announcing or even implementing some of its best features by the time it actually comes to market in 2014.

Ubuntu Edge flyout
Image: Canonical Ltd.

3. It wants to smash crowd-funding records (or die trying)

If the Ubuntu Edge is to become a reality, it will have to raise US$32 million in one month's time.

"To make it happen, we'll have to smash every record in crowd-funding history," said Shuttleworth. "It's a crazy, beautiful idea."

Shuttleworth and team officially

The economics work, in this case because "it's tens of thousands of devices rather than tens of millions," Shuttleworth remarked. The enthusiasts who support the project share some of the risk and get the opportunity to show Ubuntu whether or not there is a true market opportunity for the product before the team invests resources in it.

While it's off to a fast start, Ubuntu Edge will have to sustain its momentum over the next month to get to $32 million, and that's a tall order. Even Shuttleworth sounded as if he might be surprised and amazed if they made it. However, he made it clear that it was $32 million or bust. If the project does not meet its funding goal then it will not go forward on partial funding, he said.

TechRepublic has made its Indiegogo contribution to the project in order to receive an Ubuntu Edge device. So, if it gets fully funded, we will have a device in our hands and will thoroughly test and write about it.

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Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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