Recently announced Ubuntu Edge — a high-powered Android phone that will offer a full desktop experience — could have a profound impact on the mobile world. If it succeeds.
Canonical has been promising the delivery of a mobile device for a while now. The Ubuntu phone has lived in a sort of nebulous zone — awaiting the full realization of the user interface as well as carriers to pick up the device. Before that could even happen, Canonical dropped a major announcement for Ubuntu Edge that could easily turn the mobile world upside down.
What is Ubuntu Edge? It's very much in line with a bit of vaporware Canonical tried to deliver: Ubuntu on Android. This system would have taken your Android phone and, when attached to a special dock, magically transformed it into a full-blown Ubuntu desktop machine. That never really happened, but it was the precursor to Ubuntu Edge. With some of the most impressive specs for a smart, nay super, phone ever put to paper, Canonical now has the hardware to back up its endgame. But for Ubuntu Edge to compete with the already entrenched Android and IOS platforms, it must meet (or exceed) the following criteria.
1: It must deliver
This might seem like a no-brainer – but Canonical has to deliver what it has promised... in full. There will be no room for failing on any of these promises. Why? The mobile competition is tight and for the public to take this seriously, Canonical has to ensure that Ubuntu Edge delivers. But this actually goes beyond the mobile device. Canonical has invested a lot of time and resources into building this new mobile device — enough to detract from its bread and butter, the desktop. If Ubuntu Edge fails, it will have been nothing more than wasted time at a crucial point in the life of the Linux desktop. A failure on the part of Ubuntu Edge could have a far-reaching impact on everything Canonical does.
2: It must deliver something spectacular
As I mentioned, the competition in the mobile space is huge — even more so than on the desktop space. For Ubuntu Edge to have even the slightest chance of success, it has to deliver something no one has ever brought to life. Canonical has placed itself in a perilous position and if it delivers anything shy of spectacular, Ubuntu Edge will fail. This places quite a bit of pressure on Canonical, but that's the nature of the mobile world. It's well beyond dog eat dog. If Ubuntu Edge doesn't blow away the current offerings, it'll drown in a sea of already tough competition.
3: It must give back to certain donors
At the moment, Canonical is trying for a record-breaking 32 million dollars in donations for a kickstarter — just to get this project off the ground. If this succeeds, and Ubuntu Edge does make it, Canonical will need to give back, at least to a certain level of donors. This could be in the form of "If you donate X number of dollars, you will receive a free handset (carrier fees, of course, would apply). I would hope that Canonical wouldn't turn its back on those who help make this happen, once it happens.
4: It must contribute to open source
In a similar vein, Canonical needs to contribute to open source with this project. Many of the recent decisions Canonical has made have caused rifts and cracks to form in the foundation it laid long ago with the open source community. Giving back with this project could go a long way toward appeasing that community and mending those cracks. I'm not saying it has to open source the entire project. But it does need to extend an olive branch — in the form of code, resources, devices... whatever. If Ubuntu Edge succeeds, Canonical shouldn't leave the open source community in the dark or in the dust.
5: It must be global
If Ubuntu Edge is delivered only to, say, European countries, it will fail. If it's delivered only to the United States, it will fail. Ubuntu Edge needs to find its way into every market that Android and IOS are in. In other words, it must be global. Because the mobile market is intensely competitive, Ubuntu Edge won't stand a chance if it's relegated to niche markets. Also, when Ubuntu Edge is released, it must be released simultaneously across multiple markets. If Canonical finalizes its product and then does a test release on a small scale, the public will see this as timid business — which could lead them to think Canonical doesn't believe in its product. Canonical needs to hit the ground running with this.
6: It must perform well as a phone
With everything Canonical is promising Edge will deliver, it must also work well as a phone. So many companies deliver outstanding devices that are rock solid on the "smart" but less than acceptable on the "phone." It'll be all fine and good that users can carry around enough power to run a fully loaded desktop. But if they can't make reliable calls, what's the point?
7: It must not take away from the Ubuntu desktop
One of the war cries, heard 'round the open source community, is that the whole Ubuntu Phone project is taking away from what should be the focus of Canonical — the Linux operating system. The fear is that, should Ubuntu Edge succeed, the Ubuntu Linux platform will be left behind to suffer a lack of resources and commitment. Canonical has to prove the naysayers wrong and do so quickly. Should Ubuntu Edge mean the failure of Ubuntu Linux, the mobile platform will lose a large cross-section of possible adopters. Beyond that, Ubuntu Linux has been on the cusp of making serious leaps and gains on the desktop. Losing ground there would be a shame.
8: It must deliver both desktop and mobile apps
If Ubuntu Edge is released without a large selection of apps, it will struggle. And if the desktop flavor of Ubuntu Edge doesn't offer everything the standard Ubuntu Linux platform brings, it will struggle. Applications will play a major role in the success of Ubuntu Edge. The app selection must also offer a wide variety. If we're looking at a large selection of pointless games and very little in the way productivity or business-class applications, Ubuntu Edge will not be taken seriously.
9: It must not suffer serious delay
Canonical needs to post a release date (once it has raised the funds) and needs to stick with that date. This is especially true if it raises the 32 million in funds in the 30 days it has, only to let the release date continuously slide. Obviously, the designs are complete and the Ubuntu Phone platform is nearly polished. With everything in place, a delay in release will only cause Canonical to continue losing ground to the competition.
10: It must have support
Ubuntu Edge will be completely different from anything the mobile community has ever seen or used. Because of this, Canonical will need to be prepared to offer official support. Having forums and mailing lists won't work in this case. Without official support (a phone number or email address people can use), a large portion of the end-user community will find difficulty in using the system. Canonical can't assume that every adopter will be a hard-core Linux user who can solve nearly any problem the device throws at them. Upon release... Ubuntu Edge must have real, official, and efficient support.
I'm a big fan of Ubuntu. I like a lot of the decisions Canonical has made and support its efforts. But Ubuntu Edge is a special case – one that must succeed on every level if it is to succeed at all. I look forward to the day when I can kick the tires of Ubuntu Edge. I hope that comes soon and I hope it exceeds every expectation Canonical is laying down.