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Canonical CEO: Expect an Ubuntu phone in early 2014

Despite the failure of the ambitious and record-breaking Ubuntu Edge crowdfunding campaign, Canonical's Jane Silber says the future is ripe for innovation.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read
Ubuntu Edge
The Ubuntu Edge, a convergence device that would have dual-booted Android and Linux OSes for both a mobile and desktop experience, failed to meet its funding goal of $32 million. Rich Trenholm/CBS Interactive

The Ubuntu Edge may have bitten the dust this morning -- coming in a whopping $19 million short of its crowdfunding goal. But Canonical, the team behind the Linux-based operating system, is dead set on continuing to push the boundaries of mobile technology, specifically the ambitious concept of convergence that would have given Edge users the ability to swap between an Android mobile OS and a fully capable desktop-enabled Linux one.

While the device won't be getting made -- all Indiegogo supporters will be getting full refunds -- Canonical CEO Jane Silber outlined plans for the company to bring an Ubuntu phone to market in early 2014.

"I think the full Ubuntu convergence experience will not be in the first round of Ubuntu phones, which we're targeting for the first quarter 2014," Silber told CNET. "Just phones, not a full converged plug-into-your-monitor device," she added, stressing, "I think convergence is the future. It may take many forms."

The failure of the campaign didn't come as much of a surprise; many estimates had claimed weeks ago that the Edge wasn't going to meet its goal by any stretch of the imagination. But Silber and Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth were still holding out due to some behind-doors talks with partner manufacturers that were becoming increasingly interested in making the idea happen.

"We were in heavy industry conversations to try and do everything we could to increase the chances," Silber said, noting that it was never going to be one single $20 million donor who would have shifted the scales. Rather, the manufacturers' interest was what let Canonical begin pushing the Edge price downward over the course of the campaign. A final-ditch effort then may have involved a massive price drop to try to spur a huge spike in pledges. But it didn't come through.

Ubuntu tries to raise $32M for Edge smartphone (pictures)

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Still, Canonical is not disappointed. The Ubuntu smartphone mission is still "full steam ahead" Silber said, and thanks to Indiegogo, the Edge whipped up interest to the tune of 11,000 supporters, snatching away the record from the Pebble smartwatch by a cool $2.6 million. It was an excellent display of demand for a never-before-seen device, and that in and of itself accomplished an important mission in sending a signal to handset makers.

Because in the view of Canonical and Shuttleworth -- who handed the CEO role off to Silber in 2010 to focus on product development -- smartphone behemoths like Samsung and Apple are no longer capable of groundbreaking innovation due to the amount of risk entailed with trying to scale such innovations to millions of units. That limits those companies. The Ubuntu Edge was supposed to break through the glass and bring the concept of convergence to the market far sooner than what would have been feasible in a world without crowdfunding.

In an online marketplace where any idea, no matter how out there, can become reality if enough supporters jump on board, mobile innovation could find its new best friends in Kickstarter and Indiegogo. "Everyone's getting more and more CPUs in some form or another, and at the same time [there's] a countertrend that you need and want less [devices]," Silber said. "I think both are valid trends...I think we're in for a period of real innovation and disruptive change."

But the Canonical CEO is quick to recognize the contributions of tech titans like Apple and Microsoft, which she says are contributing in very pivotal ways to the philosophy behind convergence through the blurring of the lines between mobile and desktop experiences. They may be moving slow, but "those companies absolutely play in the world," she said, noting how Microsoft and Apple's user experience has begun over the last few years to bring a uniformity to computing that is device-agnostic.

The possibilities for convergence are endless, especially given the advent of wearable technology. Silber wouldn't say whether an Ubuntu Edge-like device or, say, a smartwatch might become the future nexus of our computing lives in 5 or 10 years' time. But whatever may be coming next, the important matter is realizing the best avenue to jump-start it into existence. For Canonical, that's become abundantly clear.

"I think there are going to be a lot of interesting crowdfunding campaigns," Silber said.