It’s easy to forget that the technology we enjoy today is the product of years of innovation. While some ideas stand the test of time, most of them end up in the bin due to scarcity of resources, inadequate expertise, ignorance of consumer needs, or simply poor management.
Whatever the reason may be, these failed attempts to help teach valuable lessons and allow tech companies to create better, faster, and more user-friendly products for all of us. In light of this progress, let’s take a look at some of the strangest Android fails of the last decade.
1. Wraparound Displays
One of the most bizarre smartphone designs of all time has to be the Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha. The device was announced as a concept phone in 2019—a time when OEMs were increasingly putting curved screen edges on their phone.
The wraparound display on the Mi Mix Alpha is sort of like a fast-forwarded version of that trend. Instead of being limited to the front, the display continues to the back of the phone giving you a nearly all-screen experience.
Although the phone looks very futuristic, it’s wildly impractical. For instance, having a screen on the back is kind of pointless as you’ll only be looking at one side of the phone at a time. And if you ever drop the phone, it’ll probably crack the whole screen instantly due to its flexible—and hence weak—glass. Also, more screen means more battery consumption.
And let’s not forget that repairing such a device is probably in the short of a nightmare. We could go on, but you get the idea.
2. Modular Designs
The idea behind modular phones was kind of genius. Instead of buying a new device, modular phones would allow you to swap out broken or less useful components for new ones. You could theoretically create your dream phone this way, all while producing less electronic waste in the process. Cool, right? We saw Google’s Project Ara trying to achieve the same vision.
The biggest reason this seemingly revolutionary idea failed is that there was simply no demand for it. Most smartphone owners aren’t tech geeks; they simply want something that works reliably and don’t want to have to bother choosing modules themselves.
Plus, a company selling modular phones would essentially be cannibalizing their own future sales since people wouldn’t need to upgrade to a new phone as they can do with the replacement modules they already have. The closest thing we have to a modular phone right now is the Fairphone series which is built to be as repairable as possible.
3. Motorized Cameras
Punch-hole selfie cameras are the standard now, but a couple of years ago, tech companies were coming up with all sorts of crazy ideas to get rid of the distraction from the screen.
We saw brands like OnePlus, Samsung, Vivo, Oppo, and Asus launch phones with motorized cameras such as a pop-up selfie camera or a main flip camera. All these efforts were commendable, but didn’t go mainstream.
Contrary to early skepticism, durability wasn’t the issue with motorized cameras, it was space. There’s only a limited amount of space in a phone’s body which OEMs have to use in the best possible way. Motorized cameras took a lot of space inside the device which could otherwise be used for things like fitting a bigger battery, adding more sensors, and more.
And that’s a sacrifice that tech companies soon realized isn’t worth the cost.
4. Curved Screens
One of the most peculiar smartphone designs ever introduced is curved screens. You may remember the LG G Flex and the Samsung Galaxy Round. The former was curved horizontally to create a better viewing experience and the latter was curved vertically to make the device sit more firmly in your hand.
Curved phones had a novel factor, yes, but they were simply not economical. They cost a lot to build, were harder to repair, and were easier to break after an accidental drop. Also, due to their dimensions, they occupied more room which meant shipping them was also more expensive since fewer units could be put in one container. All of these problems combined sealed their fate.
5. Built-In Projectors
A rather futuristic-sounding smartphone innovation is the built-in projector. We saw Samsung trying to pull off the same with its Galaxy Beam phone back in 2012. The idea was that the phone would allow creating a “unique shared experience around digital content for everyone—anywhere and instantly”.
Sadly, the only time anyone would praise the Galaxy Beam was during first impressions. As soon as you saw the device in action, it became apparent that it sucked as a projector and as a phone.
The projector would only project low-resolution content and the phone had outdated specs and horrible battery life. It was also super expensive, very bulky, and frankly not as necessary as Samsung might have imagined.
6. Full Gaming Controls
Another sad debacle was the gaming-centric Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, colloquially known as the PlayStation phone. At first sight, it was everything a gamer from 2011 would’ve wanted on their phone: a good processor, a big screen (for its time), and a control panel that slides out from the phone just like the PSP Go.
The device was supposed to support a wide array of PSP games, but only ran a handful of such titles in reality, most of which fans didn’t care about. Also, since most Android games aren’t optimized for the console-like controls on the Xperia Play, you couldn’t even download a game from the Play Store expecting it to work well.
Furthermore, the touch-sensitive circles on the Xperia Play weren’t as responsive as the joystick on the PSP Go. So often, regular touch controls would work better than the control panel which defeats the whole purpose of buying such a phone. Simply put, even though the device had decent hardware, it failed to deliver on its promise of being a great handheld gaming phone.
You can still buy Android gaming phones, they just don’t have built-in controllers anymore.
Tech Advancements Need Business Expertise
It takes an immense amount of work, research, and capital to get an innovation adopted by the masses. The smartphone industry is one of the most competitive out there, and marking and maintaining your territory in it is no easy business. For an idea to become successful in this industry, it not only has to make sense technologically, but also economically and socially.
In fact, some brands release phones with bizarre new designs not because they expect them to become mainstream, but to simply flex in front of their competitors and appear as the more innovative brand in the public eye. But sadly, some brands also end up losing billions in the process.
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