Hybrid Ubuntu Edge Device Blazes a Crowdsourcing Trail

Carl Weinschenk
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Are Smartphone Owners Switching Teams?

Canonical is making news in a couple of ways: its nascent product, the Ubuntu Edge, is an attempt to marry the mobile and desktop worlds more deeply. Perhaps just as importantly, it is relying on crowdsourcing to do it.

ZDNet’s Steven Vaughan-Nichols describes the project at ZDNet: Essentially, the idea is that there is still a need for PCs, despite the fact that their sales are cratering. There simply are tasks that are better done on a PC. They still are being sold, just more slowly than in their golden age. At the same time, however, more and more tasks are shifting from PCs to mobile devices.

The Ubuntu Edge handles this challenge not by having one device that is good at one side and bad at the other, but by being two devices in one. It’s an Android-based smartphone and, when docked into a monitor, an Ubuntu desktop.

Vaughan-Nichols quotes Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon as saying that the hybrid device has access to the files on the phone and the full Ubuntu desktop.

The bottom line is that a single small device that either acts independently as a phone or modularly fits into a monitor (outfitted, no doubt, with a keyboard and mouse) in a home, office or hotel makes perfect sense. Indeed, it suggests that a world in which a person’s electronic life is spread among multiple devices that can’t easily communicate with each other is begging to be updated. Writes Vaughan-Nichols:

Their answer: Give people a single device. Make it so people don't need to carry a laptop, even a Chromebook, and a smartphone. Make it so that you can carry all your needed computing power in a shirt pocket. They foresee a post-PC future where you simply plug your super-smartphone into your office, hotel, conference center, or home keyboard and monitor and you'll be ready to go.

The way in which Canonical is raising money is news as well. The company is not the first to use crowdsourcing instead of more traditional approaches such as loans and venture capital. But it is pulling out the stops: Canonical is attempting to raise $32 million on the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo. As of early afternoon on July 24, the company had raised about $4.9 million.

Indiegogo works in one of two ways. A campaign asks for a certain amount of funding. It can opt to either keep what it raises even if it falls short of that goal or take an all-or-nothing route: Raise the entire amount or go home with nothing. The associated charges, in the form of a percentage deducted from the total, are lower if the campaign sponsor chooses to keep the accumulated funds regardless of the stated goal. Apparently, Canonical is confident that it will raise the entire amount, for it has taken the all-or-nothing option.

Datamation’s Bruce Byfield offers commentary on why Canonical is going the crowdsourcing route. He suggests that it is difficult for a company without a track record to arrange the funding and enlist a manufacturer to mass produce a phone. Canonical, via Indiegogo, may simply believe it is easier to raise the money and do the job itself:

In other words, for all the critical acclaim that Ubuntu has received for its phone development, the response of manufacturers may have been disappointing—perhaps even creating a bottleneck that prevents retailers from carrying Ubuntu products even if they want to.

The Ubuntu Edge is important to watch to see if there is demand for a hybrid device – and to see if crowdsourcing is a viable model that eschews financial middlemen.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 25, 2013 7:40 PM JMI JMI  says:
Really interesting Carl, thanks​!​ I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across about crowds and citizen science.​ ​ It’s called “The Theory of Crowd Capital” and you can download it here if you’re interested: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2193115 Really powerful stuff! Reply

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