There’s been a lot of talk about the Ubuntu Edge, and our associated Indiegogo campaign to fund it. There has been a lot of positive coverage on news sites, social media, Reddit and even one television interview. But there have also been a lot of questions about why we’re doing this, and why we’ve chosen a crowd-funding campaign to do it. Since I’ve seen so many of the same questions being asked by so many people, I wanted to take the time to try and explain things a little bit better.
What it isn’t
In order to fully understand and appreciate what the campaign is about, it might be easiest to first explain fully what it isn’t. Once we’ve done away with these misconceptions, it should become more clear why it is what it is, and finally why that is important.
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, this is not a charity. We have provided a $20 perk for people who want to see this campaign succeed but don’t have the means or desire to purchase one of the Ubuntu Edge devices. But this is primarily a way for people to get very high-end hardware by paying for it’s creation. I don’t have the exact numbers, but just going by what we’ve seen of the perks claimed, people have been contributing at levels that would get them a phone more than 3.5 times more often than the much less expensive founder’s perk. This tells me that people aren’t supporting this campaign because they think it’s a good cause, or because they like what Canonical is doing, by and large they are supporting this campaign because they want an Ubuntu Edge in return.
Secondly, and this is one that has been asked a lot, this is not a financial investment. OEMs aren’t stupid, venture capitalists aren’t stupid, and Mark Shuttleworth isn’t stupid. If there was money to be made in building bleeding-edge phones then we would have half a dozen to choose from at our local store. The margins on hardware sales is much lower than many people realize, and without a high rate of profits available, only a very low level of risk can be assumed. That’s the main reason nobody else has built a phone like the Ubuntu Edge, and why nobody is going to anytime soon if we were to try and do it using capital investments. The Ubuntu Edge doesn’t need to prove that people want scratch-proof screens or high-capacity batteries, it doesn’t need to prove that consumers like more power and more storage, it needs to prove that those technologies are ready to be produced in high volumes without supply or manufacturing problems. It doesn’t need to prove that people want a desktop available at home or work, but it does need to prove that the hardware and software are capable now of providing that convergence in a satisfactory way that previous attempts couldn’t.
Finally, it’s not a way of making money for Canonical or a last-ditch effort for keeping either Ubuntu or Ubuntu Touch alive. Whether this campaign succeeds or fails, we will continue to work with OEMs to bring multiple consumer phones to market, most likely using slightly better hardware than the current generation of smart phones, where there is little risk involved on the hardware side. But in order for Ubuntu to provide the kind of convergence and one-device experience that we envision, we needed skip the slow, safe evolution of hardware and spark the flames on a whole new class of phone. So while we work on getting Ubuntu phones to market with our partners, the Ubuntu Edge will provide the seeds for the suppliers and manufacturers that those partners use, so they will be ready to build their new generation of superphones when the time comes.
What it is
Now that I’ve gone over what this campaign isn’t, let talk about what it is. I spent some time over this weekend thinking about how to accurately describe it without going deep into the economics or politics of it, trying to find parallels in other industries (like Mark’s F-1 analogy) that wouldn’t fall apart when going into the specifics of either. In the end, I decided that the thing this campaign resembles the most is an adventure.
Now that’s vague, I know, so let me give some more concrete examples. I liked Mark’s F-1 analogy, but when looking into how F-1 actually operates these days it really doesn’t quite fit. Instead it’s more like X-Prize competition that put the first private manned vehicle into space. Even though there was a monetary prize in that competition, it was only a tiny fraction of the money that went into building any of the entrants. The reason anybody participated was to push the bounds of technology and to try and birth a new industry, one where they would stand to benefit more in the long run than any possible profits they could have made by sticking with the status quo.
But those initiatives were largely funded by wealthy individuals, who probably didn’t expect to get much in return. So for a more fitting analogy we need to go a bit further back in time, to expeditions into the Americas and Africa, some of which were funded only by those who were to participate in them, and who could expect little more than the thrill of participating. While not pushing the limits of technology, these adventurers would certainly push the bounds of knowledge to new levels, and would fundamentally change the way the world looked.
[Update] It has been pointed out in the comments that many of these expeditions had either deplorable intents or disasterous consequences for the native people. While this was not at all what I had in mind, I understand that my knowledge of those histories is largely influenced by my own ancestry. A better example, as also pointed out in the comments, would be the expeditions to both the north and south poles, or the scaling of Everest.
Why it’s important
Now both of these are extreme examples, and certainly far outshine what we’re trying to do with the Ubuntu Edge. It is just a computer after all. But on a smaller scale the reasons and motivations are the same, there is a desire to push the limits that currently confine us. And that’s certainly not a feeling that’s limited to Canonical, over 15,000 people have contributed to the campaign in one way or another, and around 10,000 have committed to sharing the adventure with us from the beginning by claiming their own phone. These aren’t wealthy investors looking to become more wealthy, nor is it good-hearted folks who are giving us money just to be nice, these are thousands of people who want go on the adventure because it’s exciting, because it’s audacious, and because it gives them the future they want to see made.
So there it is, we’re embarking on an adventure, and we want you to come with us. If the Ubuntu Edge makes you excited for the future of computing, if you’re eager to see that future technology years before it becomes common place, if you want be on of the ones cutting new trails rather than following those well-worn paths cut years ago, then I invite you to sign up and add your name to the list of technology pioneers.