10 Worst Mobile Tech Products: Part 1
Naturally we’re big fans of mobile technology in all its many forms here at Broadband Genie, but while most of what we see on a day to day basis is fun and exciting new tech there are inevitably a few disappointments; gadgets which for one reason or another are overpriced, under-specced or just plain broken. Here’s our pick of the ten worst offenders.
It’s 2010. Social networking is huge. The iPhone is firmly established as the must-have smartphone and Android is on the up. You want in but your next-gen mobile OS isn’t going to be ready for some time yet. What to do? For Microsoft the answer was Kin, a crippled handset that was half feature phone, half smartphone and fully lacking in basic functionality.
Developed by the team behind the Sidekick, a popular device for young’uns in the US, the Kin ‘social phone’ was a spectacularly failed attempt at grabbing the yoof market which hit shelves years too late and riddled with problems.
Its social network feed aggregator could only update every 15 minutes, Twitter photo uploads and retweets weren’t supported, it didn’t have instant messaging and there were no app downloads. Even simple features like predictive text were missing and there was no way for users to transfer the contact list without going into a phone shop.
The Kin was on sale just 47 days. It cost $240m (not counting development costs) cancelling out profits from the Xbox to push Microsoft's entertainment division into a $172m loss. The European launch was swiftly cancelled and the Kin team moved onto Windows Phone 7, where they presumably now have responsibility for making the tea.
Even the cheapest mobile phones come with basic web browsers now but back at the beginning of the last decade Wireless Access Protocol - WAP - was all we had to rely on for mobile net access in many phones. It was Teletext for your mobile, except less useful and every page cost money.
WAP used its own markup language and sat separate from the rest of the web so you couldn’t just hop on any site you fancied. Anyone wanting to provide a WAP page had to build it from scratch and network operators forced you into starting at their landing page then made it as difficult as possible to get away. 3G was a pipedream at this point as well and even with WAP's lo-fi approach browsing was painful.
It was hyped as the internet on your phone but by this point we’d all grown accustomed to the graphical delights of the web so the sluggish text-heavy approach of WAP was far less exciting than the marketing suggested.
If you’re looking to pinpoint the source of Nokia’s current woes the N97 is a good place to start.
When released in 2008 Nokia's N95 had already proven to be a hit and the 5800 XpressMusic was also successful at bringing touch screen goodness to the masses. Nokia still had a large following at this point so the N97 launched to a great deal of fanfare, especially as it was being positioned as a successor the very popular Nokia Communicator line, considered to be the essential business smartphone in its day.
Unfortunately the N97 almost single-handedly shredded Nokia’s reputation.
Putting the dog in dog and bone, the N97 was lumbered with a killer combination of buggy hardware and software and lacklustre specification. The iPhone had been available for a year already so Nokia should have known better than to use a resistive touch screen in a top end smartphone.
Storage space for apps was just 50MB despite the 32GB of internal memory and the limited RAM caused extreme performance hits and random reboots. Users also complained of scratches on the camera lens caused by a manufacturing fault, GPS drop-outs which rendered the excellent Nokia Maps useless and even problems making and receiving phone calls.
You know things are bad when senior management issues a public apology.
Windows Phone 7 is an innovative and user-friendly approach to mobile operating systems distinct from anything else on the market. Hard to believe it came from the same company responsible for Windows Mobile.
WM was based on the awful Windows CE and went through numerous iterations as MS attempted to get a foothold in the smartphone arena. That it had some success was a miracle, though it was largely down to WM being suited to business use as it offered easy compatibility with Outlook email and Office docs.
While other companies created new operating systems built from the ground up with mobiles in mind, the MS approach was to just stick the Windows desktop on a smartphone, complete with Start button. Stabbing at a series of nested menus or clicking through screens full of ugly icons and cramped text was not a fun way to use a phone, particularly at a time when resistive touch screens were the norm.
The only bright spot came from HTC whose TouchFlo skin actually made Windows Mobile vaguely functional. That found its way to Android as Sense UI where it continues to be one of the better custom UI offerings out there.
Motorola ROKR E1
Apple had been looking into mobile phones for a while before the iPhone and this gadget was the underwhelming result of the fruity firm dipping its toe in the water for the first time.
The ROKR E1 was a re-badged Motorola E398, at the time a mid-range feature phone with cutting edge features like a VGA camera, 1.9-inch colour screen and polyphonic ringtones.
Apple’s contribution was iTunes support so you could listen to your music library away from a computer and without an iPod. Amazing. Assuming your library was no more than 100 tracks, anyway, because even with the maximum 1GB microSD card inserted the phone’s firmware prevented any more than 100 songs being loaded onto the ROKR E1.
Why this decision was made is unknown, though perhaps it was to keep users from waiting around for hours as the music very slowly copied to the handset over its sluggish USB link.
The ROKR E1 quickly fell into obscurity. It was a device which failed to satisfy either Apple fans or anyone looking for a decent music phone, and E398 owners would have been really disappointed if they were expecting an upgrade. Realising it would have to take matters into its own hands Apple said 'goodbye Moto' and launched the iPhone two years later.