The world of cellphones is a hugely competitive business. Numerous companies have jockeyed for market share over the years, both before and after the likes of Apple and Samsung took over as the two most dominant companies. And while the iPhone and Galaxy brands are generally considered the premiere mobile devices of today, there have been plenty of challengers for that throne — both before and after Apple and Samsung combined to grab almost all of the smartphone business.
It turns out that succeeding in the cell phone game is harder than it looks. It takes a combination of a great product, excellent marketing, and a bit of luck to have a best-selling phone. The companies who manufactured these 13 phones quickly learned it the hard way, and in some cases, have barely bothered to try again since.
13. BlackBerry Storm
Poor BlackBerry, they soared so high and then fell so hard. They were legitimately one of the first companies to take over the smartphone market, although they looked a lot different back then. There were no touchscreens or amazing cameras, just physical keyboards and clickwheels. But hey, the BlackBerries could access email and get online, so that was a step forward.
As the rise of touchscreen smartphones was in full swing, BlackBerry felt they needed to be in that market too. Thus, they developed the BlackBerry Storm. It was dubbed the “iPhone killer,” which actually makes us laugh out loud in hindsight. The Storm featured a touchscreen keyboard, but the whole screen would “click” down while typing. It was awful. Plus, the software (which wasn’t originally designed to work with a touchscreen) was hastily slapped together and had numerous bugs and glitches. An aggressive (an expensive) marketing campaign had a lot of people convinced, but almost everyone who bought a the Storm ended up returning it. Once the reviews got out, sales died off completely. BlackBerry attempted to redeem themselves with the Storm 2, but it was also a dud.
12. Sony Ericsson Experia PLAY
This was originally dubbed “The PlayStation Phone,” a device that was supposed to seamlessly meld a typical smartphone with a portable gaming system, like the PlayStation Vita. Unfortunately, it ended up doing neither job particularly well. This device, which eventually dropped the PlayStation branding from its name, featured a slide-out gamepad, complete with the classic PlayStation buttons.
The big selling feature was supposed to be PlayStation Mobile, an app that would allow owners to play classic PS1, PS2, and PSP games. And it kind of worked. But games that utilized new touchscreen technology were all the rage. There’s a reason Angry Birds turned into a real franchise. The Experia PLAY’s limited hardware prevented it from being updated to Android 4.0, and that basically turned the phone into an antique overnight.
11. Amazon Fire Phone
We’re not sure why Amazon decided to get into the cellphone business, since the online retailer was already plenty successful without it. Then again, they had managed to produce a few pieces of tech that were generally well-received by the public, like the Kindle E-Reader and the Fire Tablets (the trend would continue with the Amazon Firestick and the Amazon Echo).
However, their first (and only) attempt at a cell phone was the Amazon Fire. It boasted five different cameras and a 3D display. But it was missing the one thing that truly mattered. Because of competing interests between Google and Amazon, the Fire didn’t get access to the Google Play Store (the phone ran a unique FireOS, based on Android). So it couldn’t get the apps that people use everyday, like Gmail or Google Maps. All the fancy gimmicks in the world weren’t going to save the Fire if it couldn’t do the simple things. This blunder reportedly cost Amazon over $170 million before they cancelled their cell phone division entirely in 2015.
10. Nokia N-Gage
Before Apple and Samsung took over, Nokia was considered the king among cellphone makers, although it was an era of “dumb” flip-phones. Nokia looked around, though, and saw the popularity of portable gaming and music devices, like Nintendo’s GameBoy and the original iPod, and decided they could cram all those things into one singular device. Thus, the Nokia N-Gage was born.
This unique-looking phone debuted in 2003, but it never caught on. It had a strange design that didn’t appeal to consumers, especially as a phone. As a handheld gaming device, it was equally shoddy. Without a robust library of games, the N-Gage suffered right out of the gate. Nokia proudly claimed that they has shipped over one million N-Gage devices, but they wouldn’t admit that 99 percent of them sat in retail store rooms collecting dust. The actual number of N-Gage units sold was minuscule in comparison.
9. Palm Pre
Unlike most of the other phones on this list, the Palm Pre was a genuinely much-loved device, if only for the software alone. Originally launched in 2009, the Pre didn’t use an Android build, but rather shipped with WebOS, a Linux based mobile operating system. It contained numerous innovative features, like card-based multi-tasking, that Apple and Google would later copy in their mobile OS.
Unfortunately, the Pre suffered from two main drawbacks. First, without a real App Store of its own, it couldn’t compete with the likes of Apple and Google. Secondly, and more important, the physical build quality of the phone was spotty at best. There were plenty of reports that the plastic casing felt cheap, and the sliding mechanism would become loose and wiggly after even gentle use. In addition, there were complaints of failing power buttons and malfunctioning headphone jacks. The Pre could have been a glorious alternative for those who didn’t want to give in to Apple or Google, but it never happened.
8. Nokia Lumia
As we previously mentioned with the Microsoft Kin, the company that once monopolized the PC market with its Windows operating system has frequently failed miserably when it comes to phones. The Nokia Lumia (which was eventually rebranded the Microsoft Lumia) was first released in 2011 and would end up being the first phones to have Microsoft’s new boxy “Windows Mobile” operating system, which was supposed to seamless translate to the Xbox One and all Windows 10 devices. You’ve seen it, with the tiles.
The main reason this Lumia failed was their apps. Or rather, the lack of apps. Unlike the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, the Microsoft Store was woefully empty. Popular apps like Snapchat or Evernote weren’t even available. And because Microsoft and Google don’t always get along, it was a hassle to set up things like Gmail or Google Drive (No, Microsoft, I don’t want to use Outlook or One Drive. Stop asking). And really, the tiles operating system just didn’t work very well on a smartphone, and Microsoft continues to struggle in the market.
7. Project Ara/Modular Phones
Remember that original Phonebloks viral video? You can watch it here, but here are the basics: someone decided that cellphones should be entirely modular, meaning that users can pick and choose their parts like building a PC. Love to take photos? Grab a high-end camera module. Finding that your battery doesn’t last the day? Just slap on the biggest battery module available, sacrificing the space of some feature that you don’t use, like a headphone jack or external speaker. Play a lot of games that take up hard drive space? Put in a bigger one. You get the idea.
It got a lot of buzz on the internet. In 2013, Motorola (owned by Google) announced it was working on a modular phone design, subbed Project Ara. The marketing material advertised phone components that could be updated or replaced simply by pulling out on block and plugging in another one, like Lego bricks. The idea never panned out, though, because the technology doesn’t work that way. Companies like LG attempted a modular phone with their G5 model, which featured different slide-in attachments on the bottom. No one bought it.
6. Microsoft Kin
It seems odd, really, that a company with so much success in the tech market when it comes to personal computers (and even the gaming market, if you consider the various Xbox models) has never managed to figure out phones. We already mentioned the more recent Windows phones make by Nokia, but long before those Microsoft unveiled the Kin in 2010.
The Kin, with it’s slide-out keyboard, was supposed to be some sort of hybrid between smartphone and dumbphone. It didn’t have apps, but came bundled with the social media basics: Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Perhaps it would be perfect for teenagers? When it came out, the price was a lot higher than most people expected. One report claimed that Microsoft only sold 500 of these things before abandoning the whole thing just six weeks after the product launched.
5. LG Double Play
For a while, cell phone companies thought that people needed dual screens. Perhaps they were influenced by the success of the dual screen Nintendo handhelds, but whatever the reason, multiple companies attempted to make smartphones with a second screen crammed in there somewhere. The biggest offender, in our eyes, was the LG Double Play, which for some insane reason included a second screen in the middle of a physical slide out keyboard!
Not only would you have to slide this thing apart just to access the second screen, it made typing incredible frustrating. The additional hardware made the Double Play extra bulky, with critics calling it a “brick.” And since screens (and their backlights) are one of the biggest battery sucks on any smartphone, the Double Play was depleted of power very quickly for even the average user. It was a bomb by any measure, and tech companies would (thankfully) abandon the dual-screen trend shortly thereafter.
4. HTC First
Facebook exploded so fast into such a giant company, that rumors existed that they were going to branch off into pretty much any tech business that existed. Since Facebook was already the most popular app on pretty much any other smartphone, the social media giant decided to cut out the middle man and produce their own phone in 2013. Partnering with HTC, they introduced the First, a device which was affectionately called the Facebook Phone.
The idea was that the homescreen of the phone would be dominated by Facebook, including status updates and incoming messages. In reality though, the OS was just a hacked together version of Android given a Facebook skin. Turns out, everyone was perfectly fine just having Facebook be another app on their phone (something that has become even more prevalent as privacy concerns mount over digital data and social media use). The HTC First saw its price drop from $99 (with contract) down to $0.99 within a month, and the whole thing was scrapped a year later.
3. Asus PadFone
One of the jokes that circled the internet when Apple first announced the iPad was that it was nothing more than an oversized iPhone, without the ability to make phone calls. Critics scoffed: who would buy one of those things? Well, hundreds of millions of people who bought iPads proved Apple right. Asus figured that nobody needs both a tablet and a smartphone though, and unveiled the PadFone, a cell phone that docked with a larger 10.1 inch tablet.
The tablet add-on was designed to improve functionality (it included a keyboard attachment) and battery life. In reality, though, no one wanted to combine the two devices. You can’t browse Twitter and hand the tablet to your toddler if they are the same device, for example. There’s a reason people were gobbling up iPads from stores, and it wasn’t because they didn’t already have a smartphone. Asus would attempt to update and improve their model, releasing a PadFone 2, a PadPhone Infinity, and a PadPhone X. We’ve still never seen one in the wild, or even in stores.
2. Motorola Rokr
In the waning days of the dumbphone era, the Motorola Razr reigned supreme. It’s slim profile helped rocket it to success. Seriously, it seemed like everyone had one of those things. Around the same time, the iPod (along with iTunes, their digital music store) was experiencing massive success in the market of MP3 players. So, before Apple decided to get into the phone business themselves, they partnered with Motorola to put iTunes on a phone, which would be an updated version of the Razr (that didn’t fold) that was given the hilariously bad name of Rokr.
Steve Jobs introduced it at a big Apple conference, but even his legendary marketing ability failed to get the Rokr off the ground. The software was buggy, the interface was confusing, and the phone was limited to storing just 100 songs at a time. It failed miserably, but there’s a silver lining. Apple was so jaded about their brief partnership with Motorola that they decided to go ahead and develop their own device — the eventual iPhone.
1. Samsung Galaxy Beam
Long before Samsung made exploding phones (we’re kidding — only a few Galaxy Note 7 devices caught on fire), they tried to sell the gadget-loving public on the Galaxy Beam in 2012. It’s big flashy gimmick was that it came with a mini projector, that would allow you to display things like pictures or games on your walls or garage door. The commercials showed people loving the grainy, poorly lit photos that the Beam would project onto other surfaces, but none of that advertising hype crossed over into real life.
The Beam was overpriced and used a version of Android that already obsolete. Consumers weren’t sold on the gimmick either, as most people’s reaction to a projector in their phone was “when am I ever going to use that?” Never. The answer is you’ll never use it. So the Beam sold poorly. But it wasn’t enough to convince Samsung to kill the projector phone altogether, though. They released a second Beam model in 2014, but aimed it squarely at the Chinese market, not North America.