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Phoney McPhoneface: The thrilling tale of ZTE's crowdsourced mobe

Or why the customer isn't always right

Engineers and designers hate committee-led engineering and design, hence the proverbial joke about the camel. And ZTE's effort to allow passing strangers to design and brand a new mobile device perhaps illustrates why.

In August, ZTE announced Project CSX, allowing "the community" to build a new product. The Chinese giant stipulated three conditions: "It must be a mobile product, the technology must be realistically possible by 2017, and the final product must be affordable for the general population." It was as much about promoting ZTE's community website "Z Community" as creating something that would sell.

Four hundred suggestions were whittled down to a shortlist of just three camels. The community wanted: waterproof VR nerd goggles, so you could "immerse" yourself underwater (because); a programmable bionic glove that could play the piano and type (because); and a phone. But not just any phone. This phone would have a sticky back (because) and a polarized LCD and an eye-tracker, so the display could show different content at different viewing angles. Well, because! Obviously.

The winner was the self-sticky, content-obscuring phone. Sadly the winning name was not "Phoney McPhoneface", one of the suggestions "because this is the internet", its proposer argued. In fact, none of the most popular community-suggested names were deemed acceptable. "Enki" (a Mesopotamian God), "Eyegasm" or "Wink", with ZTE choosing "Hawkeye", which had gathered just 15 votes, half the number of Phoney McPhoneface. A moral victory for the community, you can say.

At CES, ZTE showed off a dummy and announced it would be available in September. It accompanied it with this perplexing marketing image:

Why? Ask ZTE
Source: ZTE

And today, ZTE announced the specifications: a bog standard full HD dual-SIM device with a 3000mAh battery and Snapdragon 626.

But cunningly, also at CES, ZTE threw the project on to Kickstarter, which dares the community to back its ideas with real cash. The goal set was $500,000 but after 12 days, it's only gathered 166 backers who have collectively stumped up just £32,050. That leaves 94 per cent of the target still outstanding, and unless it is met in full by 18 February, the whole project will be canned. Clever ZTE, calling the community's bluff.

So we'll see if it ever appears. But don't hold your breath. ®

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