With eight days left in its thirty-day campaign to raise $32 million dollars, Ubuntu looks like it’s going to come up short in their bid to crowdfund the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. This is far from shocking as this would have meant that the aggressive thirty-day crowdfunding campaign would have more than doubled the record amount raised by the Star Citizen video game over the course of an entire year. The Edge aims to be the next generation smartphone, a device far more powerful than current smartphones and one that doubles as a PC. Ubuntu aims to bring its desktop and mobile technology to the mainstream while also luring Android users into its smartphone. The phone would simultaneously run Android and Ubuntu’s mobile Touch software.
So what is Ubuntu in the first place? Unless you’re a Techcrunch addict or building the infrastructure to your company’s network, it is likely Ubuntu and its Linux-based open source software are under your radar. Started in 1991, it was the first open source and free operating system developed. In a sense, Linux was an early example of a crowdsourcing platform. Anyone from developers to curious beginners could use the platform and collaborate to build their own version of a Linux-based operating system or application. Even if you want nothing to do with Linux, 80% of your pockets are lined with it as Android was built on the platform. Ubuntu has the world’s most popular free operating system, utilizing Linux in a user-friendly conventional desktop form.
Why the Edge and Why Crowdfunding?
The concept of the Ubuntu Edge project seems obvious. Why not look for the best upcoming tech and throw it together to stay ahead of the competition? As Unbuntu’s founder Mark Shuttleworth explains, the industry giants are the roadblocks to introducing new smartphone technology. Phones are built with the goal of selling tens of millions of copies. Manufacturers simply do not want to include up and coming technology until it is proven that the hardware can be affordably manufactured at high volumes. Since there is no testing ground or small scale experimental production in the industry, the innovative progress of the market runs at the pace accepted by the mainstream manufacturers. Think of it as playing safe; even a heavily marketed phone with the "best" technology is not really showing the consumer what technology is really capable of.
Ubuntu wants to skip the large manufacturer production line and build a phone itself. In a very creative crowdsourcing experiment, the Edge project will be funded by the purchase of your own Edge phone. For $695, you pay into the project, and if funded, out comes your phone. “We don’t have a consumer test-bed for cutting edge technologies but we do have a new mechanism for driving innovation,” says Shuttleworth. If you think about it he’s right. We often don’t get to pick the latest technology or features we want, and we certainly can’t picks upgrades on a lot of products like we can a car. The Edge is a large scale crowdsourced experiment to see what the smartphone is capable of and where the consumer wants it to go. Are people ready for a phone that doubles as a PC? Ubuntu does not want to become a phone manufacturer. Instead it wants to validate that there is a market for a next generation technologically advanced phone that its software will excel on. What if the mainstream isn't ready? Can those passionate enough crowdfund their way to get what they want?
The potential benefits from this experiment are far reaching for not only Ubuntu but R&D and innovation teams in general. Precedents are being set for market research, production, and innovation acceleration. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are poised to be a driving mechanism in incubating next generation technology and possibly accelerating its time to market. So what can we expect in the future?
- More crowdsourced designs, features, and market research: The Edge project is based on the premise that some of us want more and that more is possible. Over the last few years, we've observed more input into the future of products being crowdsourced. This method of product development will also expose more start-ups and emerging technology to become viable and potentially invested in.
- Production of emerging technology gets financed: Emerging companies with great ideas are often overlooked, possibly with the result of great technology eventually slipping through the cracks. Crowdfunding these projects can potentially help smaller manufacturers get their products off the ground and into production quicker. This results in technology reaching large manufacturers quicker as these major players see the viability of using emerging cutting edge technology. As seen with the Ubuntu Edge project, there is better technology in batteries, cameras, and even screens out there that need to be boosted into the mainstream.
- Innovation is accelerated through the crowdsourcing of ideas and funds: The crowdsourcing of ideas for consumer products is helping companies to better understand the needs of their customers. It also helps them find new areas that could invest in. For example GE has joined with Quirky to build a community that will turn hundreds of its patents into marketable consumer products. Philips has launched the “Innovation Fellows” program for products related to "Living Well, Being Healthy, and Enjoying Life," and finalists will launch campaigns on Indiegogo. This is an interesting way of judging the viability of an idea, as the consumers themselves will have the chance to express interest and invest in the best ideas.
- Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding determine the direction of industries: The ultimate product of all this is that companies and consumers get more of what they want. Products will be designed to meet the needs of consumers better. Everyone’s happy here; think of it as more efficient product development resulting in more efficient sales to consumer…and more money. Google Glass has been the subject of much discussion in the tech industry lately. They are basically recruiting passionate tech lovers to a limited release of Glass, and similar to the concept of the Edge project, testing the market for validity. Not everyone can get one given the approval process for the beta version. So what will Glass be used for? That's a good question. The whole point of the 8,000 beta testers is to find out how people want to use it and in what direction Google should initially go. Google wants to openly crowdsource the development of the Glass program and makes this clear by announcing, "Applications are now closed, but the conversation is just getting started."
Authored by Joe Artese, Business Analyst, InnoCentive