Is the Ubuntu Edge, the Linux-powered "superphone" that Canonical hopes to develop through a crowdsourced funding campaign, a dying prospect? Maybe. But that doesn't mean the project hasn't already succeeded in significantly advancing Canonical's goals in the smartphone and mobile-device market. Here's why.
The Indiegogo fundraising campaign for the Edge is only in its second week, but bloggers are already loudly proclaiming its impending failure. And despite the positive spin that some writers, including Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon, are putting on the endeavor, the naysayers may well turn out to be right. Contributions to the Ubuntu Edge fundraiser, which now total about $7.8 million of the $32 million goal, have slowed to a trickle. Giving needs to rebound hugely if Canonical hopes to meet its goal before the fundraiser ends on Aug. 21.
But one has to wonder what Canonical's true goals were in launching the campaign in the first place. Any sane executive at the company would have realized that a crowdsourcing campaign of this scale doesn't have great odds on success. And there were presumably other ways to fund the development of the Edge: If Canonical couldn't secure the cash on its own, it might have been able to partner with an OEM interested in breaking out of the iOS-Android-Windows Phone box.
So why did Canonical choose to pursue the Edge in the way it has? Maybe simply because it was the best means of drawing attention to the promise of Ubuntu Linux as a truly cross-device operating system that could finally erase—not just bridge—the barrier between traditional PCs and mobile devices.
However much money the Indiegogo campaign actually manages to raise, it has attracted the eyes of observers not only within the open source world—who tend to be familiar with Canonical already—but also from across the channel writ-large. It has received plenty of mainstream media coverage from beyond the traditional open source/Linux outlets, and has likely gained the notice of channel leaders who are better-positioned to see the project through to completion than the 15,000 Linux enthusiasts who have made contributions for the Edge on Indieogo.
And that may be Canonical's ultimate goal. If the company can find a committed OEM or other partner somewhere within the channel -- and there are likely plenty out there who would be interested in a device as innovative as Canonical describes the Edge to be -- it stands to go much further in generating a new paradigm of mobile computing than it could even if it exceeded its $32 million fundraising goal.
The debate over whether the Indie Gogo campaign for the Ubuntu Edge is doomed to fail will continue until the campaign closes in a couple weeks and its outcome is definitive. But that discussion may miss the real point of the endeavor, which is about showcasing to the channel just how groundbreaking a concept Canonical is poised to implement, if only someone can help it out with financing. In that sense, the campaign has already succeeded in laying the groundwork for lining up the array of channel partners Canonical could engage around the Edge.