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Six Clicks: Biggest smartphone flops over the past four years

We have seen phones targeted at teens, Facebook users, people with small hands, and more over the past few years -- and some failed devices only lasted weeks.
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By Matthew Miller, Contributor on
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1 of 7 Nokia

Many things lead up to a failed device

I have been using PDAs and smartphones for 17 years and over that period I have used hundreds of devices. Over the last few years we have seen some smartphones last just a couple of months before being discontinued.

I have a feeling the Amazon Fire phone will soon be joining this list.

Some devices were doomed to fail from the start and most had their existence questioned by the tech press. One was actually a rather amazing device; I still own it, and its death came about due to a change in company leadership.

Recent data shows that businesses are readily adopting iOS over other mobile operating systems. As we look at these smartphone failures, we see that Apple's iOS is a safe bet with well-supported devices and a rather consistent, progressive mobile strategy where experimental devices and strategies are not launched and then killed just a few months later.

Let's take a close look at these six failed smartphones in order of their release. Let me know if you think any of these should have lasted longer than they did. I have a feeling the Amazon Fire phone will soon be joining this list.

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2 of 7 CNET

Microsoft Kin (May to July 2010)

Since the Microsoft Kin was targeted to the younger consumer, I gave my two oldest teen daughters the chance to test the Kin One and Kin Two when they were released in May 2010.

Microsoft spent a reported $1 billion on the Kin project.

I was expecting them to be a bit more excited about the phones, but neither recommended the Kin. A couple of months later, Verizon and Microsoft pulled the plug on the project.

There were some great features in the Kin, and I think the idea behind them was pretty solid. However, Verizon treated them like all the other high end phones and at the time the monthly fees were too high for parents.

Microsoft spent a reported $1 billion on the Kin project and it will go down as one of the biggest flops in the smartphone world.

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3 of 7 ZDNet

HP Veer 4G (May to August 2011)

Palm revealed the WebOS operating system at CES in 2009. Unfortunately, the Palm Pre didn't launch for another six months and even then it was only released for Sprint. The Pre almost earned a place on this list, but it stuck around for over a year even though the hardware quality was questionable.

I guess  my daughters are pretty good about picking out the losers.

Palm was eventually aquired by HP and along with the HP Pre 3 and HP TouchPad, HP announced the HP Veer 4G for AT&T. The device was essentially a tiny Palm Pre with a 2.6 inch display and miniscule keyboard that was very tough to type on.

I again had one of my daughters take a look at the HP Veer 4G and once again she recommended looking elsewhere for a new phone. I guess they are pretty good about picking out the losers.

The HP Veer 4G was released in May 2011, but then HP decided to stop development of WebOS hardware in August so the Veer was discontinued.

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4 of 7 HTC

HTC ChaCha/Status (June - August 2011)

HTC used to make phones with various form factors and one of my all-time favorites was the HTC Dash. They took their front-facing QWERTY design and created their first Facebook-focused phone, the HTC ChaCha (aka Status) that even came with an offset blue Facebook button.

AT&T doesn't seem to actively support and promote exclusive devices for very long.

The HTC ChaCha was an Android smartphone that launched in June 2011. It wasn't endorsed by Facebook as the "Facebook phone"  — but having a button dedicated to Facebook made it heavily focused on that social network experience.

AT&T doesn't seem to actively support and promote exclusive devices for very long: The HTC Status looked to end life at AT&T around August of 2011.

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5 of 7 Nokia

Nokia N9 (September 2011 - July 2012 last update)

I was in attendance at Nokia World 2011 in London and after seeing the Nokia N9 in person, along with talking with folks and getting assurance it would be well supported for some time, I ordered my own cyan N9 from the show floor. Little did we know at the time that Stephen Elop would come in a few months later and put a stake into the heart of MeeGo.

The N9 wasn't a failure because of the device, but because of the business decisions made by Nokia executives.

The N900 was available before the N9 and ran the Maemo operating system, which was a successor to the N9 and MeeGo. MeeGo took the OS further and was an excellent smartphone platform that I still think had serious potential to compete with others if Nokia had decided to keep supporting it.

The N9 and N900 remain in my collection, but the last official software update came in July 2012. The NITDroid project was able to get Android on the N9, but it had limited functionality. The N9 wasn't a failure because of the device, but because of the business decisions made by Nokia executives.

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6 of 7 HTC

HTC First (April to May 2013)

A Facebook phone was long rumored and in April 2013 the HTC First was announced at a Facebook press event. The First launched as an AT&T exclusive (notice a pattern of failure here?) to mixed reviews. While the hardware itself was pretty compelling, the overwhelming Facebook influence in the UI was questionable.

It is pretty clear that consumers really don't want or need a Facebook-focused smartphone.

A month after its release, reports stated that AT&T only sold about 15,000 HTC First devices. The First launched at $100 with a 2-year contract and then quickly dropped to just $1 with a 2-year contract. AT&T's official statement was that they offer price promotions all the time and this wasn't inspired by lack of sales. I don't think the price ever went up though so it was obviously a way to try to clear out inventory.

AT&T discontinued the HTC First with unsold inventory reportedly being returned to HTC. The HTC Status, HTC's first Facebook phone, may have sold even more units than the HTC First. In either case, it is pretty clear that consumers really don't want or need a Facebook-focused smartphone.

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7 of 7 Nokia

Nokia X (Feb 2014, discontinued announcement in July 2014)

People believed that Nokia should have considered Android as an operating system back when Stephen Elop switched everything to Windows Phone. They didn't make that move back in 2012, instead announcing a questionable strategy to launch Android on a Nokia device at Mobile World Congress in early 2014, during the period when Microsoft was in the process of purchasing the Nokia devices division.

I don't understand how in the world it was ever launched when Stephen Elop was there at the beginning and end.

Microsoft was obviously going to go all in with Windows Phone when they took over the Nokia hardware so many of us questioned the Nokia X, especially when Microsoft already had a more compelling low-cost Windows Phone strategy.

The Nokia X runs a custom UI on top of Android, much like an Amazon Kindle, with the focus on Microsoft services. Unlike Windows Phone, the Android experience on low end hardware is usually not very good (the Motorola E and G are the exceptions).

Unsurprisingly, in July 2014 Microsoft announced it would discontinue the Nokia X line. I don't understand how in the world it was ever launched when Stephen Elop was there at the beginning and end as a Nokia and then Microsoft executive.

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