Ubuntu Edge: Putting the Desktop in Your Pocket

By August 2, 2013No Comments

"Convergence is the future of computing."

With this statement Mark Shuttleworth opens Canonical’s crowdfunding campaign-video. It’s quite a statement, but Canonical seems to have managed "to combine the mobility of a smartphone and the power of desktop on a single device".

Canonical’s campaign to crowdfund its first smartphone – the Ubuntu Edge – has been covered in great detail. It’s the fastest crowdfunding effort in history and it’s the largest such campaign with the highest target. To put their campaign into perspective, the Pebble Smartwatch raised $10M on Kickstarter and is to date the most successful crowdfunded project in terms of monetary value. Canonical is aiming for three times this amount – $32M.

So far they have raised roughly a quarter of the amount needed and they have only three weeks to go. Chances are that the Ubuntu Edge may well become the most high-profile crowdfunding “failure” to date.

Gigaom has already reported that Canonical is "not on track to hit the lofty $32 million crowdfunding target" and pointed out how not "playing to its existing fanbase" and stating that "openness and hackability are not top priorities will not help its cause."

Ubuntu’s big vision, high risk

But the real exciting stuff is not their crowdfunding campaign… those are just numbers. What excites us is their perspective on revolutionizing desktop computing using "Convergence Devices", they call them… And whether Canonical’s campaign is successful or not, this vision may take a small hit, but it will certainly be carried forward, be it with Ubuntu’s Edge or otherwise.

It is hard to ignore pioneering work that could potentially (and finally) disrupt the desktop computing platform.

The concept is not a new one per se, but this time, Ubuntu might be the first contestant to have nailed it. The concept is a promising one for the mobile world to say the least.

Technological convergence is the trend of one device performing the tasks that you previously needed multiple devices for. Take today’s smart phones: Does anyone still use them for voice calling? There are millions of uses for smartphones today, including web browser, camera, music player and newsstand, to name a few.

Canonical wants to take it up a notch and make your desktop computer obsolete by putting a top of the line smartphone – with specs similar to a decent notebook – into your pocket. All you would need in addition is a display and there you have it: a workstation. And as soon as a solution for folding up your screen comes into existence, laptops, too, will be obsolete. Flexible OLED displays, anyone?

Tech Specs

The hardware specs won’t be the issue in achieving a mobile-desktop convergence device. It is simply a matter of time until mobile devices reach the technical specifications needed to power 99% of desktop applications (obviously powering an average user’s notebook is more than possible today).

The Edge’s specs are subject to change (and are said "to be finalised as late as possible to ensure the best available components"). But take the current tech specs and compare them to a MacBook Air and you will soon realize they are not all too different. Both have a multi-core processor, 128 GB and 4 GB RAM (note: the MacBook Air can be configured for higher specs in terms of CPU, memory and storage). The front camera of the Edge at two megapixels is one feature superior to the Air. Its display, covered with Sapphire Crystal, is basically scratch-proof too. So with its dual-boot, you have the world’s most powerful smartphone in your hand, which converts into a fully integrated desktop PC.

Will the Edge cut it in the real world?

So what specific aspects are needed for the Edge to be successfully adopted by mass market?

1. Price

The price is steep, sure, but with the Edge, Canonical is putting a top-of-the-line device into your pocket. And what’s more important, you will only need an additional display before you can get rid of your PC.

2. Convenience

"Convergence is the key idea we are exploring, so this phone needs to be a potent little PC when docked." And potent it is. The Edge will reduce the number of devices you carry around, and although the future of computing will most certainly be up in the cloud, there’s still something comforting about having everything on a single device.

I know of many executives who use a dock to make a desktop platform out of their laptop, now imagine replacing that larger device with a much smaller one, while all other specs remain the same.

3. Technological progress

Ubuntu may be the first to integrate exactly the right amount of technological progess.

On the one hand, the vision of convergence for the phone and the PC will push the limits of mobile computing. The Ubuntu Edge "brings together the most exciting innovations that are real but still on the horizon," Shuttleworth explains.

On the other, if you trust what Shuttleworth says, the Ubuntu smartphone may be the first device that incorporates things that really make a difference to the end-user. Shuttleworth compares the phone industry to the camera industry five years ago… when it was stuck in a race of megapixels.

Note that the Ubuntu Edge will only be available to supporters of their campaign, at least that’s what Shuttleworth claims. Assuming, the Ubuntu phone is successful in proving the viability of convergence devices in desktop-mobile, you don’t have to be a genius to predict they will deep-dive into phone manufacturing.

And it is precisely for these reasons that we want to see the Ubuntu Edge being made reality – not to break the odd crowdfunding record – but rather to push technology forward and, like Mark Shuttleworth says, to be "the catalyst for awesome innovation and a taste of the future of the phone."

Image courtesy of Ubuntu.