Requiem for the Ubuntu Edge: The phone is dead, but the dream lives on

We are gathered here today to mourn the death of the Ubuntu Edge. This ambitious project blurred the line between smartphone and PC, and while it burned but only briefly, it burned brightly enough that its legacy will live on in the hearts of future generation of phones.

The Ubuntu Edge's sheer audaciousness shone through from the very beginning. Bursting at the seams with hefty hardware and running no less than three—count 'em, three—separate operating systems, the Edge certainly held its own when it came to specifications. But beyond all the RAM and OS trio and the sapphire display, the Ubuntu Edge was a prophet, designed to lead the world into an era where a single device could drive many displays, and be many things: a phone when you need portability, a desktop when productivity beckons.

The vision was enticing. Millions—$12,812,776, to be exact—fell under the influence and pledged themselves to the Edge's side. The crystallizing device marched forward, shattering all previous crowdfunding records. But like so many other prophets throughout the ages, the Ubuntu Edge died before attaining its ($32 million) goal.

The story does not end here, though.

Carrying the torch

Canonical

The Ubuntu Edge was always intended to be but a single step towards Canonical's far-seeing journey into the future—an inspiring, glorious step, yes, but a mere step nonetheless, and one always destined to fail. Do not weep! The prophecy continues. People are (finally!) talking about Ubuntu Mobile. Already, the Ubuntu Edge's vision has drawn in carriers like moths, and according to Canonical, third-party manufacturers are tentatively mustering the courage to carry the Edge's torch forward, with the first Ubuntu phones slated to arrive in 2014.

No, the Edge's disciples won't be as inspiring as the Edge itself, but they don't have to be. The Ubuntu Edge was the dream; mid-tier, Ubuntu Mobile-wielding successors would be the reality that Canonical is hoping to actually achieve.

"The Edge is a concept car, not quite like Formula 1, which 40 percent of people could drive," Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth told The Guardian. "But we're also working on putting a phone that's the equivalent of a mass-market car on the road. I would very much like to see the Edge but I didn't expect that the majority of Ubuntu Mobile users would come through the Edge, but through retail. Frankly, we'd [like to] see handset makers rebadge their Android phones and put Ubuntu Mobile on it."

But treachery could lie ahead. While Android phones repurposed to Ubuntu Mobile would certainly pay homage to the Edge's legacy, the concrete results may, alas, send Canonical's super phone spinning in its grave. Driving the full-blown desktop version of Ubuntu requires more hardware firepower than your typical cheap handset can bring to bear, and smartphones offering a stuttering experience could kill the "One device" dream faster than the Edge's failure ever could.

A far-reaching vision

Canonical
The Edge switched to a full-fledged Ubuntu Linux desktop distribution when connected to a monitor.

Fear not, all ye faithful. Even if today's mid-tier smartphone reality fails to live up to the dream, the Ubuntu Edge's brightest days could lay far, far ahead. As we stand here today, I'm reminded of the sage words of Ben Bajarin, the director of consumer technology for Creative Strategies.

"[The Ubuntu Edge has] a very future-centric [UI] paradigm," Bajarin recently told me, in the Edge's final days. "I don't think it's something we're going to see go big right away… I can see someday, when we've got so much processing power in our phone or tablets that there's no reason why it can't power all these other displays and be all these different PCs. And I think what Ubuntu's doing with the dual modal software is very interesting.

"It's a very intriguing concept, and one could make a could case that over the next 5 to 10 years, all the technological bits will be there to make that an equally good experience as what you get today with a notebook or a desktop."

Do not mourn the death of the Ubuntu Edge, dearest. Embrace the sweet memory of the short time we were able to spend with the Edge, and rejoice in its whispered promises of the future.

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