The fine line between full-featured smartphone and powerful computer has been blurred with news that Canonical is developing a pocket-sized dual OS superphone that runs both Android and Ubuntu. When running Ubuntu mobile, users of the new Ubuntu Edge will be able to launch apps and access settings by swiping the edge of the display. Cabling the phone to a monitor and pairing it with a wireless keyboard and mouse allows power users to launch a full version of the Ubuntu desktop computing platform, with seamless transition between environments.
The Edge's Ubuntu phone OS is said to present an uncluttered interface where navigation is undertaken using screen edge swipes, hence the product name. System toolbars are activated via the top edge, app toolbars are available at the bottom, a favorite apps launcher is on the left and open apps can be flicked through on the right.
The phone can also boot into Android, and from launch users will be able to access the Ubuntu desktop environment from within Google's popular OS using the Ubuntu for Android app. Shortly after launch, the developers will push out an update to integrate the full version of the Ubuntu desktop environment into Ubuntu mobile.
The Ubuntu Edge is being developed as an open device, so won't be tied to any particular network. The phone is designed to work in any country that provides GSM/3G/LTE-based network services, and will pack dual LTE antennas for super-fast surfing wherever in the world you might find yourself.
Though hardware specs are subject to change ahead of actual production, at the moment they include a 4.5-inch, 1,280 x 720 resolution sapphire crystal display that will be selected for accurate color reproduction and dynamic range, an unspecified multi-core processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of onboard storage.
Canonical is aiming for dimensions of 124 x 64 x 9 mm (4.9 x 2.5 x 0.35 in), with a textured, angular metal body that's home to an 8 MP low-light-friendly rear-facing camera, and a 2 MP webcam at the front. It will come with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, built-in GPS and will be NFC-capable.
In addition to an accelerometer and a gyro, the Edge will also sport a compass, proximity sensor and barometer. Its two microphones will benefit from active noise cancellation, stereo speakers will pump out high definition audio, and there's a 3.5-mm audio jack for a less public listening experience.
The developers plan to maximize the amount of energy in the space available by making use of upcoming silicon-anode Li-ion battery technology, and the device will feature MHL and USB on-the-go support via an 11-pin connector.
The Ubuntu Edge project has already gone from concept sketches through to test handsets, and is currently at the pre-production prototype stage. It's not intended to make a break for commercial release, but rather be manufactured as a strictly limited edition enthusiast device. As such, the Canonical has opted to take the crowdfunding route to turn the idea into reality.
A rather lofty funding goal of US$32 million has been set, but as Indiegogo backers have already stumped up nearly $7 million in just a few days, we'll wager that this one's ripe for success. All of the early bird levels have gone, so backers will need to pledge at least $775 to secure a Ubuntu Edge. Canonical expects delivery to take place in May 2014.
The company's Mark Shuttleworth introduces the concept and the proposed hardware in the video below.