Toaster company's phone business is now toast
Balmuda and Kyocera both quit phones within a week
Welcome back to Multicore for Thursday, May 18th.
Two Japanese smartphone makers exited the business over the past week, perhaps not unrelated to the fact that both of them are better known for equipment I use in my kitchen.
First up is Balmuda, which entered the market in late 2021 with its debut handset, simply called "Balmuda Phone". Balmuda is a Japanese lifestyle brand that produces a range of stylish and somewhat expensive appliances like lamps (Balmuda The Light), kettles (Balmuda The Pot), and vacuum cleaners (Balmuda The Cleaner). I have their toaster (Balmuda The Toaster). It's great.
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"After comprehensively reviewing the current business environment, we've decided to stop making smartphones and focus on other businesses", the company said in a brief statement. When the Balmuda Phone launched, the company positioned it as the first product from a new Balmuda Technologies imprint, hinting at larger-screened devices to come in the future. It's unclear whether Balmuda Technologies itself has been put on ice, but the failure of its first product is not a great sign.
What went wrong with the Balmuda Phone? Well, frankly, it was weird, and I say that as someone who quite liked it. Balmuda's CEO Gen Terao introduced it as a response to the proliferation of gigantic smartphones; the Balmuda Phone had a relatively tiny 4.9-inch 16:9 1080p display and fit comfortably into the palm. The industrial design was cute, as you'd expect from Balmuda, and the custom software was surprisingly neat. It came with a great calendar app that I still use to this day, since Balmuda eventually released it on the Play Store for any other Android phone.
The problem with the Balmuda Phone was that, unlike toasters, phones are now too complex and important to get by on design alone. Balmuda gave the device underpowered specs like a Snapdragon 765 processor and a single mediocre 48-megapixel camera, but tried to charge 104,800 yen for it — that was more than $900 at the time, and nearly 20,000 yen more than an iPhone 13 mini.
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