Vote for ZTE's Crowdsourced Gadget Now

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Want to force a multi-billion dollar phone company to make something you like? Voting has now started in ZTE's Project CSX, the company's attempt to harness the collective wisdom of the Internet to select its next great device.

But the wisdom of the crowd may be less original and imaginative than ZTE would like. The company received almost 400 idea submissions during August, ZTE VP Jeff Yee said, of which about half were phones, 15-20 percent were VR-related, and "maybe an equal number of wearables." The current front-runner is just a phone running the Ubuntu OS, an idea that is already being done by Meizu and BQ.

"I think the project gets validated when we have a new category of device," Yee said. "I posted a few blogs trying to get people to think out of the box, and I got, 'you should design a smartphone with a Snapdragon 830 chip.'"

That said, if the Ubuntu phone wins, "I still have a hard time saying that ZTE can't remain committed to it," Yee said.

The second-place idea right now is pretty original—it's a hands-free smartphone with a self-adhesive back, which you stick to things. But many of the top ideas are concepts we've seen before in other retail products, for instance Google's modular Project Ara or Yotaphone's e-ink screen.

Voting has been restricted a bit by the fact that you have to sign up for an account on ZTE's ZCommunity website to participate, Yee acknowledged, which may have skewed participation towards passionate niche communities. "We need to make sure that we're opening up this voting process so we can hear from thousands of users," he said.

The top 20 vote winners will be validated by a panel of judges, and then three basic ideas will move onto a community-run design phase on Sept. 12. Various designs based on those three winning concepts, plus a fourth "wild card" concept, will be narrowed to five final designs on Oct. 12, with the creators of final five ideas garnering $1,500 each, Yee said.

The winning device will enter production with a dedicated team at ZTE in charge, and it will come out in 2017. If it's a phone, Yee said, the "un-carrier" (meaning T-Mobile) has expressed interest in seeing what comes out of the project.

"If it's a smartphone it might be December of next year; if it's something simple it might be March," he said.

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