Talking tech since 2003

As a fan of technology and gadgets, I’m sad to see that the exciting Ubuntu Edge smartphone from Canonical will probably never see the light of day—or, at least, not in this form. The project’s crowdfunding campaign started off promisingly enough, but with 15 hours to go and not even half of its $32 million goal funded, it seems unlikely that it’ll hit the mark.

It’s disappointing to say the least. The campaign recently got a boost from CNET UK, not to mention British media personality and all-around good guy Stephen Fry, who linked to the campaign on his Twitter account:

And about a week ago, Canonical claimed a victory when the company wrote a post on its campaign page, saying it had broken a record for “the world’s biggest ever fixed crowdfunding campaign,” surpassing the $10.2 million total raised by the Pebble smartwatch. Indeed, the campaign is sitting pretty at $12.2 million, and it’s likely that number will go higher as these next 15 hours tick by. But that victory is a pyrrhic one, at best. Breaking a record for fundraising doesn’t mean much when you don’t actually get the funds.

While there’s still time left in the campaign, it seems safe enough to say that another $20 million in funding might be a stretch too far. So what went wrong? What kept the Edge from, well, going over the edge?

One reason, I’m sure, is the fact that users can’t actually hold the thing and try it out. Shelling out $830—or even the discounted price of $695—for a smartphone that’s never existed before is asking a lot of any consumer, even one who loves gadgets. When you add in the fact that most smartphones are purchased as subsidized items, paid off with monthly service contracts, and you’ve got a high ticket item that people aren’t used to paying for.

Even the iPad launched at a lower price, and that was a pretty expensive device when it first came out. Furthermore, it was based on a device most people already knew: the iPhone, which, in turn, was based on the hugely successful iPod. And the cult of Apple is a powerful force, helping to propel new ideas to great heights.

Canonical and Ubuntu may be fantastic and have their own share of dedicated adherents. But if you ask the average person what he thinks about Ubuntu, he’ll probably say something along the lines of, “doesn’t he play for the Dallas Mavericks? Or is he on the Bulls now?” In short, Ubuntu is an unknown quantity, and Ubuntu Mobile even moreso.

Moreover, $32 million is simply too lofty a goal. I hope that in 15 hours I’ll be eating my words, kicking myself for not finding the money to preorder an Edge for myself. But the fact that, even if it meets its goal, the Edge is exclusive to Indiegogo backers might be another reason that the crowdfunding efforts haven’t taken off like they could’ve. The limited edition nature of the device might’ve made it seem all the more attractive, but I suspect its exclusivity made backers ask what the point was. Crowdfunding backers like the idea of altruism to fuel their contributions. The Edge, while a great-looking device, was still the product of a corporation, and an expensive one at that. That charitable feeling was nowhere near this campaign.

I’m hopeful that this isn’t the end of the Edge. Maybe Canonical will come back tomorrow with a new campaign, whose goal will be set for $12 million, a number it knows it can hit based on this campaign—or whatever number it ends at. But until that happens, I suppose we’ll have to stay living in this rounded place, a world without Edges.

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