Canonical Seeks Investors For World's Most Powerful Smartphone

Ubuntu Edge

Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu creator and CEO of parent company Canonical, has invited developers to put their money where their mouth is. The company Monday announced the launch of a crowdfunding project to develop Ubuntu Edge, a super high-tech phone that's powerful enough to double as a desktop PC and incorporates bleeding-edge screen and battery tech most people probably haven't even heard of yet.

To have a shot at the desktop, Ubuntu Edge will pack 4 GB of memory, 128 GB of storage and will be capable of booting Ubuntu or Android, sharing files and resources across the two. Edge has a 4.5-inch 1,280-x-720 display, of an as-yet unspecified type, and front and rear cameras that will be more about color accuracy than megapixels, Shuttleworth said. The phone will operate on LTE networks in Europe and the U.S., and have Bluetooth 4.0, dual-band Wi-Fi and NFC. Processor make and models were not disclosed, but Shuttleworth said they'd be between 2 and 2.4GHz and incorporate at least two cores.

Its sapphire-crystal screen will be thinner and stronger than the glass of today's devices and only scratchable with a diamond. Cutting-edge silicon anode batteries are thinner, lighter and longer lasting. A first-day pledge of $600, which expires Tuesday at 11 a.m. EST, buys delivery of one Ubuntu Edge smartphone by around May 2014. After that the cost goes to $830, but shipping to the U.K. and U.S. is still free.

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The device furthers the company's convergence strategy unveiled at CES and Computex trade shows earlier this year. Since then, Canonical has secured commitments with 12 wireless carriers -- including Verizon and Deutsche Telekom -- and is in talks several others.

Shuttleworth explained that the decision to fund Ubuntu Edge through a crowdfunding project was meant to prove mass-market appeal before building the first device. "Phone makers are taking innovations from current devices to the next cycle, but are reluctant to plunk down 20 million on new ground-breaking technology," he said during a press-only briefing Monday to announce the launch. "For example, Apple emphasizes the user experience rather than new technologies."

But, Shuttleworth is pioneering a new approach that recoups the engineering costs before committing to the design. "We're saying 'Here's a concept. It cost 32 million to validate the design and be confident that it's possible.' But rather than building it and seeing if they'll come, we're embracing this new possibility. So if it gets funded, it's a break-even proposition for us." In the initial production run, 40,000 devices will be made by two undisclosed manufacturers. "We said 40K devices would be enough to prove there's a mass market. And it's congruent with our core competence of crowdsourcing for software."

"Crowdfunding is a fantastic way to make choices about what tech is worth accelerating to market. It's a great way to connect directly with enthusiasts and end users." And connect it has. At the time of this writing on the first day of funding, the project had collected more than $917K. "If we get a million dollars the first day, that would be amazing," said Shuttleworth.