The good news for Canonical is that it raised nearly $13 million on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to build its new Ubuntu Edge smartphone, which doubles as a desktop computer. The bad news is that it needed $32 million.
Since the funding target was not reached by the deadline on Thursday, the pledged $12.8 million will be returned. The amount raised set a record for that site, blasting past the previous record of about $1.6 million raised to create a Star Trek Tricorder-like device, from a company called Scandu Scout. On Kickstarter, another major crowdfunding site, the record is about $10.2 million raised for the Pebble smart watch.
If Canonical had actually reached its goal, 40,000 Edges would have been shipped to qualified backers by May of next year. Other Ubuntu-based phones are expected to go on sale in the first quarter of 2014.
'Surprised Even Us'
Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth told the BBC that the campaign "has sparked a level of interest that has surprised even us," getting the attention not only of enthusiasts but also manufacturers that had previously not expressed an interest.
The pledgers included Bloomberg LP, which said it made an $80,000 contribution because the open-source initiative could benefit its clients and the future of mobile computing.
Edge's edge is that, in addition to its smartphone capabilities, it can also operate as a desktop computer when connected with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. This all-in-one approach could have appeal in developing markets, or for mobile workers. The Edge's specs include an unidentified multi-core CPU, 4 GB of memory and an impressive 128 GB of storage. The Ubuntu operating system, a variant of Linux, is also designed for tablets, servers, and cloud networks.
Like Linux, Ubuntu is open source, and is trying to grab third, fourth or even fifth place in the mobile platform world behind Google's Android and Apple's iOS, which dominate the market. Mozilla's Firefox mobile OS has also been actively soliciting carriers and manufacturers for its open source, HTML5 approach, and there are others, including Samsung's Bada, the Linux Foundation's Tizen, and Jolla's Sailfish.
'Huge, Huge Leap of Faith'
Recent reports from IDC and Gartner show Windows Phone moving into third place worldwide, with BlackBerry barely holding fourth.
Shuttleworth, in a posting on the Indiegogo site, said the fund-raising effort benefited the Ubuntu OS movement even if it fell short. He said some businesses invested $7,000 apiece, and the Ubuntu community contributed time, mailing lists, social media strategies, and online ads. There are also reports that the response has helped Canonical negotiate lower prices for components from suppliers.
Ramon Llamas, a research analyst with IDC, told us it was still a stiff "uphill battle to win hearts and minds" for a new mobile operating system. On the other hand, he noted it was a "huge, huge leap of faith" for so many people to pledge money for a device they've never seen.
The top questions for most buyers, he said, is "how do I like the hardware, how I like the software, and how does it come together?" Llamas described himself as "not too crazy about the idea of hooking up my phone to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse," and added that he thought the rest of his household would "prefer to use a laptop anyway."