Mark Shuttleworth, the South African-born, Isle of Man-based millionaire who was only the second person on earth to pay to have himself shot into space, has latched onto a vision that’s compelling in its simplicity, not its particulars: Shuttleworth contends that it’s time people stopped owning more than one computer.
What’s a tablet, after all, but a larger screen for a smartphone? And why lug around a notebook, when the highest-end smartphones can, for most of us, accomplish all the same tasks? Isn’t a notebook, or even a full-blown PC, just a keyboard, a few peripherals, and a bigger screen bolted onto the same computational guts that are increasingly common to all our devices, most of which exist in the cloud now, anyway?
Shuttleworth, who has for years backed the apparently money-losing, open source, Linux-based operating system Ubuntu, a competitor to Microsoft’s Windows, is betting that a future of “convergence”—his term—is coming sooner rather than later. That’s why he’s offering, for $830, the Ubuntu Edge, a phone so powerful that it is essentially a PC in your pocket.
The specs hardly matter, but here they are for those who are into such things: 4 gigabytes of RAM, 128GB of solid-state storage, and the fastest quad-core mobile processor Ubuntu can cram into it.
This phone will also have a “silicon anode” battery for extra juice (it’s going to need it), a screen made out of sapphire rather than the industry standard gorilla glass, a camera specialized for low light pictures, and all the connectors required to plug it into a large-screen monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
Rather than build the phone and sell it, Shuttleworth wants to guarantee it has a market by crowd-funding it on Indiegogo, competitor to Kickstarter. If he can get $32 million in the next 30 days, the Edge will be built to the specifications listed on its launch page. Ubuntu has partnered with many hardware manufacturers in the past, but having never built an actual device, creating the world’s most powerful smartphone seems like a tall order.
One advantage is that Ubuntu has already built versions for the desktop, mobile phones, and tablets. Shuttleworth said he “doesn’t want to get into the phone business,” so it seems that he’s doing what he usually does: Using his millions to fund a project that could push computing further, whether or not he can figure out how to make money from it.