Smartphones Need Not Apply To ZTE’s Crowd Sourced Competition For The Next Big Mobile Product

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ZTE branding Fionna Agomuoh

ZTE wouldn’t be surprised if the product it develops in its new initiative, Project CSX, was announced by a competitor before it launches its own model in 2017. In fact, the manufacturer has anticipated curiosity from other companies and has made it possible for anyone to view CSX submissions in the Z-Community forums without registration.

“We've gone through all those scenarios. And if we launch in March and someone else launches in February, that's the risk we take,” ZTE Vice President of Technology Planning and Partnerships Jeff Yee told iDigitalTimes.

ZTE launched “Crowd Sourced X” last Wednesday as an endeavour to develop a new product for the mobile space. Tech enthusiasts can sign up and share their ideas for an original mobile product and the community will vote to select a winner, which will be announced in October. The grand-prize winner will receive a trip to CES Las Vegas 2017, while many other runner-ups will receive cash prizes. But the main purpose of CSX is to bring something new to the market.

The main criteria for submission are that the product must be feasible for a 2017 launch, portable, able to connect to a cellular or Wi-Fi network and affordable to the general population.    

“We really want to challenge users to get more creative than [smartphones]. What if the next mobile device [is something] that can help to fulfill something in your lives, probably solves a problem,” Yee said. “At the end of the day if it's a phone then we'll go ahead and build a phone. But we really want to challenge users to get to something even more than that.”

Though manufacturers, including ZTE, continue to release smartphones, many with new and beefed up features they hope will attract customers, smartphone growth continues to slow. Growth is expected to drop to 3.1 percent in 2016, according to the IDC. Outside of smartphones, markets including wearables and virtual reality have peaked consumers’ interest, but haven’t truly taken off, leaving the industry at a loss for what’s next.  

ZTE hopes CSX will be a way to bring fresh ideas into the tech space and give consumers a more direct way to be heard by manufacturers and get the exact products they want on the market. One standout idea of the forums so far is a solar-powered screen for a smartphone, intended to help with battery life.

Yee admits the project is extremely experimental, but said CSX may continue in the future, depending on the success of this current run. CSX essentially puts consumers in the place of the marketing team that works to develop the next generation of mobile products. User discussions within the forum will act as research and development to refine the ideas and details the logistics of how the product will work. This will then be voted on by the community.

“The final thing, if you think of it as a package [is] the idea and the concept -- The concept requires CAD drawing submissions, what materials should we use, it becomes a lot more complex. That whole package is what gets voted on in October,” Yee told iDigi.

Initial submissions will be accepted through Aug. 31, voted on by the community through Sept. 10 and then judged by ZTE Sept. 11. Ideas that move on to phase 2 can be developed further until Sept. 30, voted on by the community through Oct. 10 and judged by ZTE Oct. 11. A final voting period will take place Oct. 12-19 to select the winning concept.

ZTE will then take the winning concept and develop it into a actual product, which will release in 2017. The release timeframe will be dependent on the type of product, as well as whether the original CSX author(s) will have further involvement, according to Yee. Ideally, ZTE would like to have the developer(s) and the community involved in the process from conception to release.  

In the future, Yee imagines CSX may include different parameters to allow for more creativity and could possibly move outside of mobile products. But for now, those submitting must simply keep their ideas as unique as possible. Submitters should keep in mind that they can also build on existing ideas with original concepts.

“It sort of follows patent rules,” Yee said. “You're allowed to develop patents on existing technology as long as you're doing something to make it unique.”

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