10 failed smartphone 'innovations': projectors, 3D screens, gamepads and more

This lot should never have left the test lab

It looks like us consumers and the mobile phone industry have decided that fingerprint recognition can stay, with the feature now permanently added to the toolkit of amazing things our phones can do in the year 2016. 

Which is quite a rare thing to happen, as the short history of the portable telephone is littered with examples of phone makers deciding we need a thing and forcing it upon us without even asking, only for no one to use it or care about it and the amazing new thing getting quietly phased out an update or two later.

Here are some such tech dead ends, all announced as being the future by the makers of the day, before going AWOL from the bullet pointed feature set of next year's supposedly better model.

Nokia N-Gage

First up, the gaming-focussed N-Gage. You'd think phones would be perfect for gaming, what with their built-in screens and their buttons, but no. Even the mighty Nokia at the peak of its mobile domination powers couldn't sell the N-Gage even with a version of smash franchise Tomb Raider on it. 

The N-Gage was well documented as being a bit of a design mess, mind, with its comical need to turn it off and take the battery out to swap games, plus the legendary "side talking" meme it launched thanks to having its earpiece output along one edge.

LG's Optimus 3D display

We suspect that if you were to salvage an LG Optimus 3D of these from eBay the 3D hub would be devoid of content now, with the only reminder that this was once considered the future being its clever rotating carousel.

The worst thing about 3D's failure here is the way it means there's a hole in the photographic life of the phone's hoodwinked users, a chasm of months or years when some photos are saved in inconvenient 3D file formats thanks to LG's one-year-only flirtation with the display system.

See also HTC Zoe. No one ever wants proprietary photographs. Bigger files that are harder to share. Stuff that only works on your phone, now, and won't work on your laptop, 20 years from now.

Ultra rugged phones

The shocking secret that you won't believe is that we all actually quite like breaking our phones, as this means we can have a new one that's 17% better at most things and also have a funny story about the time we broke a really expensive phone two weeks after getting it and were then stuck using an cheap candybar one that used to be mum's for 23 and a half months.

Plus the rugged ones look terrible, like something from the 1990s glammed up in a cheap case from the 2000s, as illustrated by the heinous CASIO G'zOne Commando here, a phone you wouldn't even be able to break on purpose to escape having to use.

Facebook Phone / Facebook Home

First there was going to be a Facebook phone for ages and it never appeared. Then there were two by HTC and they were both rubbish. Then there was another go by Facebook and HTC (the HTC First) and it was rubbish as well, so then there was just Facebook Home, the app and OS skin for Android, and that was rubbish too. So everyone just uses Messenger like they did before and no one Googles “Facebook phone” any more. End of story.

Samsung Galaxy Round

Samsung started the "curved" phone trend off with a phone display that was only noticeably curved if you have it up against something very, very flat and examined it in close detail (Galaxy Nexus), before bending it sideways for the Galaxy Round, which not even one of our most gifted politicians could describe as being “round” and get away with it. 

Shortly afterwards lots of other companies tried similar tricks and sold"curved" phones that were similarly not really very curved at all, then LG did that LG G Flex one that you could bend a little bit but there was not much point in that either. So now they're all just flat again.

Face unlock

This was very nearly the way we all would unlock our phones thanks to becoming a feature in Google's Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich OS, but it turned out that picking phones up from the table and pointing them towards our faces and smiling and looking at the camera, and maybe seeing our awful pasty phone faces, was too much effort when all you want to do is tell the time. And fingerprint recognition came along and was better and quicker.

Xperia PLAY

Surely Sony, with its gaming library, its brand and its knowledge of hardware could become a byword for mobile gaming with ease, straddling the worlds of... no. Despite winning fans with the Android hardcore, the Xperia Play and its pop-out controller was a tech dead end, sadly, killed by cumbersome marketplaces and app incompatibility issues. Most people are happier poking Angry Birds and using software buttons than fiddling with option screens to configure buttons. 

Samsung Galaxy Beam

Weren't we supposed to have phones with projectors in them that turn any wall into a massive screen by now? This idea, modelled here by the Samsung Galaxy Beam, didn't catch on, probably because LG sells 52-inch TVs for pocket money now and we're all perfectly happy watching films on 5.2-inch screens, as if you hold them really near your face it's like being in the cinema anyway.

HTC's trackballs

Early HTC Android models had this physical trackball thing on them, which eventually turned into the optical tracker that beamed out of the original HTC Desire's Home key. God know why these existed, though, as the entire point of the smartphone was to make navigation easy through touch -- so having a wheezing old trackball to do exactly that only slower and less accurately was... peculiar. Hence they don't exist now. See also all gesture input systems, ever. 

Nokia N93

It was also a camcorder! Two expensive devices in one! Problem was it turned out phones could record HD video through a small, normal-shaped lens, and didn't actually need to look like camcorders in order for our brains to understand that they were equal to and in many cases better than having dedicated video capture devices. So off to the second hand shop they all shuffled.