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ZTE cancels disastrous crowd-funded smartphone

Project CSX, also known as “Hawkeye,” was ZTE’s way of attempting to attract enthusiasts to its brand. The company devised a concept that would let future customers contribute ideas for the phone’s features and hardware specifications.
After a community voting process, the best suggestions would make it to production devices. ZTE would put the phone on Kickstarter, safe in the knowledge it would be funded because its hardware reflected what people wanted in a new phone.
The plan didn’t exactly work out though. After running the Kickstarter campaign for a month, ZTE has officially cancelled the project. It raised just $36,245, contributed by 190 backers. ZTE needed $500,000 to meet its goal.
The company acknowledged that Hawkeye wasn’t a great success. However, it said it plans to continue evaluating the phone’s core features – unique eye tracking capabilities and a self-adhesive case – for inclusion in a future device. For the time being, CSX is no more though, a quiet end to a crowd-funding attempt that in hindsight was disastrous.
The winning design for the phone included Qualcomm’s flagship processor and 4GB of RAM, as well as the eye tracking features. However, when ZTE launched the Kickstarter campaign in January, a very different phone was revealed. The company had used a mid-range processor and 3GB of RAM, apparently to meet a $199 maximum price target that hadn’t previously been communicated.

ZTE Project CSX prototype

ZTE Project CSX prototype

This sudden rejection of the community’s design wasn’t received well. As a consequence, hardly anyone involved with the project actually contributed to the crowd-funding campaign, the most vital element for ZTE.
Heavily criticised on its own forums, the company tried to make a desperate compromise with members. It announced it would add one high-end feature from a selection of choices to the device, without raising the price. This didn’t really help the campaign as fans were already becoming rapidly disillusioned with the idea.
ZTE was accused of having previously designed Hawkeye’s core hardware itself. It then orchestrated the crowd-funding element to attract attention to the device, aiming to increase sales. Whatever its motivation, Hawkeye now isn’t going to sell at all.
Despite the less than stellar Kickstarter response, ZTE said it still sees potential for Project CSX’s future. In an optimistic update on its crowd-funding page, the company said it’s “grateful” for the community input and announced it’s still looking for ways to build a phone “that you want.”
“All of your support, perspectives and suggestions are what has driven Hawkeye so far, and for that we are grateful,” said ZTE. “We will continue to push the boundaries, think outside the box, and pave new paths to ultimately deliver a device that you want, all the while continuing to listen and explore with you every step of the way.”
As crowd-funding campaigns go, Hawkeye’s should serve as a disaster story for tech companies of the future. Had it communicated more clearly, ZTE could have seen success with CSX. Its spec sheet U-turn served to alienate the customers it was most eagerly looking to attract though, phone enthusiasts who’ll happily turn elsewhere.

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