Gadgets for humans

Bad news for anyone who wanted that ridiculous Energizer phone

It's dead, Jim.

IMG_20190225_152535 Cropped

Hello! Cast your mind back a few months to February, when we encountered a ridiculous Energizer-branded smartphone at MWC. Measuring several inches thick and packing a bonkers 18,000 mAh battery, it was easily the most memorable gadget from the show.

Do you remember how thick it was? Remember how holding the Energizer P18K Pop felt like you were carrying a thick paperback book filled with turgid Serbian poetry? Remember how Samsung and Huawei were touting phones that literally bended, and everyone was like, “nope, this is weirder?” And do you remember how, deep down, you kinda wanted one?

Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s dead in the water.

French smartphone manufacturer Avenir Telecom attempted to crowdfund the P18K on Indiegogo, but ultimately failed in a way that was previously unthinkable for a project that’s attracted so much press coverage and public interest.

Ouch.

Overall, the company raised $15,005 of its $1.2 million goal. That’s about 1.2 percent of what it hoped for.

In terms of orders, things are grim. Avenir Telecom sold just a mere seven P18K phones with its super-discounted early bird pricing. In addition, three people bought a triple-pack of the handsets.

In total, Avenir Telecom ‘sold’ sixteen (absolute) units.

I’m putting ‘sold’ in inverted commas, because everyone who backed the campaign should be getting a full refund. That’s because, to its credit, the Gallic phone maker used a fixed funding goal. This meant that the project would only receive funds if it broke past the original goal.

That notwithstanding, sixteen phones is an undeniably miserable figure. It’s arguably a historical failure. For context, Microsoft sold 503 units of its ill-fated Kin phone before Steve Ballmer eventually euthanized it. The Kin.

Indiegogo Postmortem

So, why did the P18K fail? It’s an important question. I don’t think it’s because Avenir Telecom was targeting a small niche. Other manufacturers have managed to make a success of selling high-capacity smartphones.

The best example I can think of is Chinese manufacturer BlackView, which has successfully crowdfunded (and subsequently brought to market) devices with unfathomably large batteries. We’ve covered some of these in the past.

It likely didn’t help that the battery was the only thing that really stood out for the P18K. It had mediocre specs and felt a bit like someone had taken a normal mid-range phone and shoved it in a funfair hall of mirrors.

Make no mistake, there are people who would benefit from a phone with a 18,000 mAh battery. I’m talking about military users, people working in the oil and gas industry, famers, and even truckers. In short, anyone who is likely to spend long periods of time without access to mains power. Avenir did nothing to cater to this valuable niche.

This is something that, I think, BlackView (and, for that matter, Ulephone, Doogee, and AGM) does especially well. Although they come with ginormous cells, they’re primarily designed to be hardy, and can take more of a beating than Mickey Rourke in the boxing ring. The P18K, on the other hand, lacked waterproofing and shockproofing, making it thoroughly unsuitable for outdoor users.

Then there’s the price. Avenir Telecom wanted €600 for a phone with the internals of a €200 phone. Without anything extra – like ruggedization – that’s a hard sell. It just didn’t represent good value for customers.

Engerizer’s branding mysteriously disappeared during the IndieGoGo campaign

Another problem was the branding. At MWC, the P18K was advertised as being from Energizer – a trusted, globally-recognized household name with immediate brand recognition. When it eventually hit Indiegogo, the Energizer branding was completely stripped away for reasons that remain unclear. The sole mention of Energizer was in a blurb about Avenir Telecom, which stated the following:

With 30 years of expertise in the mobile phone industry, Avenir Telecom designs and distributes mobile phones and accessories, including a full range of products under the exclusive Energizer® licence

There was nothing to suggest that the P18K would carry the Energizer marque. This felt a bit like a bait-and-switch, especially given how prominently the Energizer brand appeared at the company’s MWC presence. Ultimately, this did nothing to engender confidence in the project.

Finally, the P18K cruelly highlights the vast chasm of difference between a product that’s genuinely useful and exciting, and one that’s just weird. The P18K received a mountain of coverage from all corners of the technology press. In fact, my piece, filed from the press room of MWC, received the most amount of traffic of anything I submitted from Barcelona.

Goodbye, friend

From my perspective, people were more interested in the P18K than the Samsung Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X. That didn’t translate into paying customers, however.

Don’t get me wrong. ‘Weird’ can sell things that otherwise would lack substance. Just ask anyone who bought Sea Monkeys in the 1960’s or bought a ticket to see Swiss Army Man in 2016. But those are small-ticket items, and not a €600 smartphone.

Here’s a fun fact for you: Avenir is the French word for “future.” It’s appropriate because, in future, I hope Avenir Telecom will think twice before trying anything like this again.


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Published April 30, 2019 — 14:04 UTC