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Canonical seeks $32M to develop first Ubuntu phone

Jul 22, 2013 — by Eric Brown 824 views

Canonical unveiled details regarding the first smartphone to run Ubuntu for phones on Indiegogo, where it hopes to generate $32 million of funding to move the device into production. The Ubuntu Edge will ship in May 2014 with dual-boot Android support, a full Ubuntu desktop in docking mode, a 4.5-inch 1280 x 720 display, 128GB of storage, and the “fastest available multicore processor.”

Typically, if an Indiegogo or Kickstarter project exceeds a half million dollars in funding in its first few hours online, it’s time to break out the champagne and call up your OEM partner in Shenzhen. For Canonical, however, which took the unusual move of launching its first mobile device on Indiegogo this morning, a half mil is only a baby step toward its ambitious goal of $32 million.

Ubuntu Edge smartphone
(click images to enlarge)

The Ubuntu Edge is an exclusive production run for Indiegogo investors, with all funding going directly towards producing the device for delivery in May 2014, says the company. If it fails to meet the goal by Aug. 21, the company will skip the developer phone for now and go ahead with plans to work with its still unnamed vendor partners to build commercial phones. The today-only earlybird special price to Indiegogo investors is $600, with plans to raise that to $830 on July 23.


Early this year, Canonical announced its Ubuntu for Phones and Ubuntu for Tablets platforms running its Unity-based Ubuntu Touch interface, and in April, it released a Developer Preview SDK for Ubuntu Touch with Ubuntu 13.04 (“Raring Ringtail”). In June, Canonical announced an international Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group (CAG) for the Ubuntu platform for smartphones, and earlier this month announced that Verizon had joined the group. A beta release of the mobile software is expected to be available on selected Android Nexus devices by the end of this year.

Canonical still hasn’t consistently named its platform perhaps because the whole point is that it’s the same unified distribution that will run on desktop Ubuntu PCs. The SDK lets users write apps that can be deployed to mobile, desktop, and future tablet profiles of the fully converged Ubuntu 14.04, due on April 24, 2014, a few weeks before the Edge ships.

Ubuntu Edge concept drawings
(click image to enlarge)

In recent days, images of the Ubuntu Edge have emerged with a few major details. Canonical has now filled in the picture with a fairly detailed feature list, albeit subject to change, with the processor being the only major remaining mystery. The company says only that it will choose the “fastest available multi-core processor,” which would suggest a Cortex-A15-based, quadcore system-on-chip such as the Tegra 4, Snapdragon 800, or Exynos 5.

The 9mm thick Edge is named for its UI layer’s “edge gestures” (see farther below), as well as its “rakishly chamfered edges,” said to nicely fit in the palm of one’s hand. The 4.5-inch screen, which is constructed from tough, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, offers relatively middling 1280 x 720 resolution.

“We also believe the race for ever higher resolution has become a distraction,” states Canonical in its defense. “Beyond 300ppi you’re adding overhead rather than improving display clarity. We think colour, brightness and dynamic range are now the edge of invention so we’ll choose a display for its balance of resolution, dynamic range and colour accuracy.”

The Ubuntu Edge will provide 4GB of RAM and a generous 128GB of storage, says Canonical. Both 8- and 2-megapixel cameras are supplied, as well as a full slate of sensor and wireless features, including NFC and a dual-LTE chip. An HDMI port is available, and the battery will use silicon-anode technology for longer (but unstated) duration.

Specifications listed for the Ubuntu Edge include:

  • Processor — “fastest available” multicore CPU
  • Memory — 4GB RAM; 128GB storage
  • Display — 4.5-inch 1280 x 720 sapphire crystal display
  • Cameras – 8-megapixel low-light rear camera; 2-megapixel front camera
  • Wireless:
    • Dual-LTE
    • dual-band 802.11n
    • Bluetooth 4.0
    • NFC
  • Sensors — GPS, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
  • I/O – HDMI MHL connector; 3.5mm audio jack
  • Audio — stereo speakers with HD audio, dual-mic recording, active noise cancellation
  • Battery — Silicon-anode Li-Ion battery
  • Dimensions – 124 x 64 x 9mm
  • Operating system – dual-boot Ubuntu mobile OS and Android

Ubuntu Phone’s two modes of operation
(click images to enlarge)

Canonical has made it clear from the start that it will provide Android compatibility, but now we know this will occur via a dual-boot approach based on its existing Ubuntu for Android solution. Users will be able to launch the Ubuntu desktop from within Android using the Ubuntu for Android app, according to Canonical. As previously announced, when docked to a large monitor, Ubuntu will automatically switch into a full Ubuntu desktop environment with mouse and keyboard support. This feature will be enabled via a free software update that will “shortly” follow the launch.

Users navigate by swiping over an edge of the screen, with favorite apps found on the left edge, and app switching on the right edge. There’s also a system toolbar on the top and an app toolbar on the bottom. Canonical also says that the graphics will “evolve over time to reflect your use of the phone.”

Developers can port over HTML5 apps, or for more ambitious native apps, use the Qt QML toolkit. As noted, the Ubuntu SDK lets developers “write and upload a single native application that has desktop, tablet and phone interfaces,” according to the Ubuntu project sponsor.

The Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo funding drive page’s video appears below.

Canonical’s Ubuntu Edge funding video


The $600 earlybird special for the Ubuntu Edge is available today only, after which the price rises to $830. For $10,000 you get the privilege of receiving one of the first 50 phones, plus an exclusive VIP invite to join Canonical founder and CEO Mark Shuttleworth at the Edge’s unveiling event. Additionally, an “Enterprise Bundle” of 100 phones is available for a $80,000. More information may be found at the Ubuntu Edge Indiegogo page, and more for the Ubuntu Touch interface for phones may be found at the Ubuntu for Phones product page.

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3 responses to “Canonical seeks $32M to develop first Ubuntu phone”

  1. Neil says:

    Just to point out, for $10 000 you get one of the first 50 phones, not 50 phones ;)

  2. Yudhvir Singh says:

    Let me get this straight, that Shuttleworth guy messed with ardent Ubuntu supporters, users and early adopters with the dis-Unity WM and is now courting those same people to adopt the phone?

    I predict a luke-warm reception of his phone. In addition to using that ugly interface in one place, he is proposing to stick it in our faces on the phone too. Granted it looks nice on the phone – there is nothing compelling here.

    Give me a good $35 a month plan with this phone and now it makes sense moving my ecosphere of laptops and phones over. Otherwise, it’s all noise.

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