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Ubuntu Edge or the edge of innovation

27 July 2013 / 00:07:03  GRReporter
6456 reads

Ivan Petkov


In 2007, the United States technology giant Apple revolutionized mobile technology and, to some extent, continued to do so in 2010 with the introduction of the iPad tablet. Although over the past three years the competition in the sector of mobile devices, smartphones and tablets has significantly increased and we are already talking about market saturation, there has been nothing that could boost the industry. This is innovation. Its absence was strongly felt by Apple. Samsung, the other company with a large market share and huge budget for research and development of new technologies has also slowed down. To be honest, they presented some useful and interesting things which we would have perceived as revolutionary only 4-5 years ago. However, at this pace of development, they proved insufficient and were perceived as evolution. Koreans, more or less, followed Apple’s example, namely that each new device offers the features necessary to convince the majority of users that it is worth buying. The marketing of figures has triumphed over the thirst for innovation. The companies have become more prudent, the interests of investors have taken the place of pioneer spirit. Logically, this is a grave danger for every successful company.

The late Steve Jobs had included in his emblematic speech to the graduates of Stanford University a wish to protect innovators and businesses from their own success, "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." High profits lead to another specific and enhanced appetite and the result of it is "obesity" that hampers innovation. However, another pattern shows that the companies which are struggling to establish themselves are precisely the ones which are willing to risk and rely on innovation.

Canonical, which lies behind the popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu, is neither a young nor a small company and it has extensive experience in the struggle for survival, competing with established technology giants. Ubuntu, as an operating system, has its loyal fans but it has to fight with names and companies like Microsoft and its Windows, and Apple and its MacOS. In practice, GNU / Linux is installed on less than 1% of all computers and Ubuntu is one of the distributions that makes up this market share.

After years of neglect and a lack of support for Linux from hardware manufacturers, the appearance of tablets and smartphones is an opportunity that Canonical could seize. Moreover, the recently popular netbooks are a bitter experience from which it can learn many lessons. Namely that Linux distributions were preferred for the operating systems of netbooks, but they posed too many problems and were too difficult for ordinary users. Linux was not ready yet. Google demonstrated, through Android, that it is possible for regular users to use a Linux-based operating system. Moreover, Android is currently the most popular and the most widely used mobile operating system.

Three years ago, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu, made a radical turn with the introduction of Unity, a new working environment for Ubuntu and he was strongly criticized for this move. Mark Shuttleworth replied to the accusations of users and developers that, although Ubuntu is an open source platform and defends the principles of open source software, Ubuntu and Canonical are not democracy. After this statement, with a significant dose of irony, Mark Shuttleworth was compared to Steve Jobs. This comparison was necessary because of the desire of Ubuntu’s creator to be a visionary and innovator, and for his persistence in pursuing his goals. Only a few believed that such an ironic comparison would be reasonable. Today, the number of people who think of Mark Shuttleworth as a man with a clear and innovative vision is much higher.

Why is Unity so important? It is because this interface is designed for use on any screen size. In other words, it is designed to be used both by traditional desktop personal computers and by tablets and smartphones. A single operating system controls them all. Excuse me but I could not refrain from associating it with Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings".

The edge

The concept of a "next generation superphone - Ubuntu Edge" was presented three days ago. In order for it to be a truly innovative product that deserves its name, Ubuntu Edge must be a mix of hardware and software that will bring something new which no one else offers. In addition, it should be a qualitative leap in technological terms. Canonical compares the superphone with a Formula 1 car as it will be the first to introduce technologies which, eventually, will be introduced on a mass scale later. Let us see if Ubuntu Edge meets all criteria and our expectations regarding a truly innovative product.

Technical innovation

The purpose of Canonical is to incorporate technologies that are "on the horizon." The metal frame will provide the superphone with a clean and beautiful design. The screen size will be 4.5 inches which has been preferred as optimal regarding the superphone’s size and the ease of having it on you. Quite a few users want to use advanced technologies without having to comply with the excessive sizes of flagship smartphones operating with Android. On the other hand, many iPhone users want the comfort of the big screen without losing the convenience of a compact phone. Edge will try to combine everything concerning the screen, namely compactness, convenience of the big screen and advanced technologies. Edge will use a safety glass from industrial sapphire, which is several times stronger than the current chemical processed glass known as Gorilla-glass. Only a diamond can scratch the industrial sapphire glass and it promises to end our worries that the screen of the phone may be scratched - a calm coexistence with the keys in our pockets. At present, only Apple is using sapphire glass and only for the iPhone camera. The reason is that the cost of the industrial sapphire glass is 10 times higher than the price of the Gorilla-glass.

In addition to strong scratch resistant glass, Edge should offer image quality with natural colours. Another common problem in modern smartphones which Edge is about to resolve is the screen brightness. We hope that it will offer normal screen brightness in all conditions, especially in direct sunlight.

The superphone hides inside it the latest quad-core processor, at least 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB storage space for data. By comparison, the present top smartphones offer 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB for data storage whereas the mass models offer between 16 GB and 32 GB.

Another anticipated innovation is the battery. Every smartphone user knows that, under heavy use, the device can operate without being charged for no longer than two days. Often, the battery is low within one day. Edge promises to introduce a battery with silicon-anode technology, the capacity of which has not yet been announced. We hope not only that the technology will be new, but also that it will improve the time for autonomous use of the phone.

Today's phones are increasingly replacing low-end cameras, because of the convenience of having only one device on you. The major problem of smartphone cameras is shooting in low light. Edge will feature an 8-megapixel rear camera capable of shooting in low light and having short response time. Users will have a 2-megapixel front camera for conference calls. A double LTE chip will secure high-speed internet connectivity which will ensure the highest possible speeds for 4G data transfer.

Technical specifications:

- Fast multi-core processor and at least 4GB of RAM;
- 128 GB of storage space for applications and multimedia content;
- 4.5-inch HD (1280x720) touchscreen display, protected by sapphire glass (the hardest natural material after diamond);
- 8-megapixel main camera and 2-megapixel front camera capable of shooting in low light and having short response time;
- Fast wireless connectivity around the world with dual-LTE, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and NFC  modules;
- HDMI TV connection and MHL monitor connection;
- A variety of sensors, including GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, compass, barometer;
- Stereo speakers for HD audio playback, dual microphone recording and active noise cancellation system;
- Powerful lithium-ion battery with a silicon anode;
- Strong frame with dimensions 64 x 9 x 124 mm.

Software innovation

Edge goes a step further compared with iPhone’ minimalism, which is controlled by only one hardware button. Canonical has removed all buttons and the mobile version of Ubuntu is controlled only by gestures.

Another great innovation will be the use of Egde as a full-featured computer. Connecting the phone to a docking station and to a monitor and a keyboard will turn the device into a super ultraportable computer. The fully functional operating system Ubuntu installed on the phone will make this possible as well. We will be able to use the familiar desktop applications such as e-mail clients, different browsers, office suites, multimedia applications, and many others that are available for Ubuntu. Actually, you will have a computer in your pocket. All this will make Edge the first smartphone combining mobile and desktop operating systems. You will not have to carry around your laptop as your phone will be able to replace it.

However, that is not all! Because of the initial lack of applications for Ubuntu mobile operating system, Edge will come with Android on board. In this way, its users will have everything, they will be able to use Edge without losing the applications for Android which they have purchased from Play Store.

The project

We started with the fact that Mark Shuttleworth is a visionary and innovator. In order for the founder of Canonical to show that he has unconventional business thinking and confidence in the success of his project, he uses a very unusual method of financing. The Ubuntu Edge project collects donations to the amount of $ 32 million. There are two options, namely to support the project with an amount of $ 20 or to buy the phone in advance. In the first 24 hours after its launch, Edge was sold at the promotional price of $ 675. Currently there are options ranging from $ 725 to offers for companies to buy 100 phones for $ 80,000. The project has collected $ 6 million in three days and the amount is continuing to increase. By comparison, iPhone 64 GB, without a contract with an operator, costs $ 849. The devices purchased now will be delivered at the beginning of May 2014, for free in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The cost of delivery for the rest of the world will be $ 30.

Definitely, Ubuntu Edge is a project that will stir up the industry and will drive the established brands to reconsider their plans. In the presence of such an innovative phone, we expect that, finally, there will be more innovation in mobile devices. Ubuntu Edge fully corresponds to its name and is an extraordinary project. We see that the language of Canonical, through which it presents its new product, is close to the language of Apple. I do not dare to compare Steve Jobs and Mark Shuttleworth, and I do not like this kind of comparison. What is clear is that Mark Shuttleworth is a visionary and innovator who is trying to turn Canonical and Ubuntu into the "edge" of innovation. The manufacturing of its own hardware may be reminiscent of the pattern of Apple but there are significant differences in terms of philosophy. In particular, Ubuntu is an open source platform and its philosophy is contrary to that of Apple. The similarity is that Canonical wants to lead the industry as Apple did in 2007.

You can ask Mark Shuttleworth questions on Reddit.

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