The lofty ambitions of Canonical to crowd-fund $32 million in order to produce the Ubuntu Edge “superphone” is looking just a little too lofty at this point in time. As it stands, the efforts of Canonical and backers have only managed to scrounge together 28% of the target with little time remaining (just under 2 weeks as of writing). Even taking into consideration the typical backing “spikes” which are common at the beginning and end of the crowdfunding life cycle, it’s highly likely that the Ubuntu Edge will never be much more than a snazzy looking piece of concept art framed and placed on someone’s wall.
Ignoring the promotional price of $600 which was offered for the first 24 hours, the Ubuntu Edge is priced at $695. Considering the iPhone 5 64GB retails at $849 off the shelf, the $695 that Canonical is asking for the Edge doesn’t seem so unreasonable especially considering the hardware it sports. Sure, some hardware may not be finalized, but from details that are available, it certainly does look like the Ubuntu Edge was looking to be the Bugatti Veyron of the mobile communications world – 4GB RAM, 128GB storage, dual booting of Android and Ubuntu, coupled with an undisclosed “fastest multi-core” CPU.
So, why is it that they look to be falling so far short of the mark? Let’s ignore the obvious comparison with the iPhone since Apple could release a rock with a keypad and people would still buy it for $849 (tin-foil hat engaged). Compared to other flagship Android devices (HTC One $599, Samsung S4 $649), the Ubuntu Edge appears to be a steal at a “marginally” higher price. The ability to dock the phone and boot up Ubuntu while at the same time having the flexibility to unplug and switch over to Android is a huge advantage and cannot be overstated. Despite the fact that smartphones are obviously getting more and more powerful, there are just some things that a full blown desktop OS will either be able to do that a mobile OS won’t, or just be plain better or more efficient at. Even ignoring the fact that the Edge has dual boot capabilities, it is still an Android device with incredible specs at a price point that is just a touch higher than typical flagship Android phones.
Added this bit in response to Colin’s piece available here.
The public stats for Ubuntu are quite impressive – generally it is the most popular desktop Linux distribution out there. Just look at the adoption & reception: in June 2009, it was estimated that there are 13 million active users; in fall 2011 Canonical itself estimated more than 20 million users worldwide. This number must have grown tremendously, but even at a 20 million base, you’re looking at 0.073% conversion rate to buy an Ubuntu Edge.
And here’s where I think the issue lies. It is true that Ubuntu IS the most popular desktop Linux distribution out there, however, while the numbers are pretty hefty (20 million at last estimate), the problem is that the majority of these users aren’t really Ubuntu users. I think they are users of a free Operating System, others, essentially hipsters who use Ubuntu because it is the path less traveled (that is cheaper than buying a Mac). My point is that Ubuntu has become so widely used that the average user is no longer your archetypal nerd with glasses who stares at an enormous multi monitor workstation all day anymore, that the average citizen of the Ubuntu community is no longer someone who “embraces” the OSS philosophy.
Based on some numbers from here, a rough estimate would put Ubuntu/Arch/Debian/Mint at 80% to 90% of the entire Linux distribution user pie – all highly accessible to anyone with basic computing knowledge (not that this is a bad thing). But assuming that the actual number of OSS advocates in those communities is closer to the average of the other reasonably large distros, then Ubuntu (and by extension Arch/Debian/Mint but to a lesser degree), the familiar geeky looking Ubuntu nerd population in the wild is actually closer to 5% of Canonical’s estimate – a very optimistic total of maybe 1 million (I personally think it’s much lower, probably 2.5% and 500k maybe). At that point, the conversion rate becomes a much more logical number.
As I mentioned earlier, I personally think that the price point isn’t the major hurdle that Canonical has to overcome. Anyone who is even remotely interested in OSS that happens to have that $600/$895/etc. available during the Indiegogo campaign would have jumped on that Ubuntu Edge bandwagon (yours truly included). It’s the fact that outside of the OSS community (and this includes the folks who are Ubuntu users), mentioning the Ubuntu Edge results in more raised eyebrows and confused looks rather than a moan that a porn star would be proud of.