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Wonder gaming smartphone: News and rumors

A top tech designer may build Wonder's ambitious gaming smartphone

Why it matters to you

Before the end of the year, you may be able to buy a phone with the latest tech inside, including VR and AR support, made especially for gamers.

You don’t need to be an industry mogul to understand it’s hard, bordering on the impossible, to become a hit smartphone manufacturer these days. The market is just too crowded, and the endeavor too expensive. However, that doesn’t stop companies from trying, and the latest to do so is a startup called Wonder.

The secretive startup may be working on a high-performance device with a VR/AR twist that will appeal to gamers, thus targeting a niche rather than trying to take on Samsung or Apple. Details are very thin at the moment, but here’s what we think we know about it.

Innovative design

The Wonder device may end up looking like nothing we’ve seen before. Rumors are gathering that the company is working hard to make its product really stand out. An anonymous source with knowledge of the company’s plans told Digital Trends that Wonder is, “Working with one of the most famous industrial designers, responsible for iconic technology product designs over the past decade,” on an innovative design plan.

This fits in with previous reports. Wonder’s CEO Andy Kleinman has already spoken about smartphone design and functionality being restricted due to the need of larger companies to appeal to a massive audience. He sees the Wonder phone shifting away from that, and apparently intends to create something futuristic and a style icon, according to an anonymous source speaking to TechCrunch.

Beta testing starts soon

Wonder first made its intentions public in June 2016, when CEO Andy Kleinman told Forbes he was working on a new entry into the “mobile space,” and that virtual reality would be involved somehow. The air of mystery continues to this day, but more may come to light very soon, as it has opened up applications for an alpha test program.

It’s open to everyone, provided you fill in a questionnaire, which consists of quite specific questions including what game console you use, which streaming media services you subscribe to, and whether you’ve tried VR. The questions seem to back up the rumors about Wonder’s eventual product.

The wording indicates not everyone will be accepted in the program, but those that do will, “be among the first to try Wonder,” and get early access to its services or events. Once the program begins, we may get firmer details about the company’s plans.

What’s Wonder’s plan?

Kleinman sees a crowded market filled with smartphones designed for very broad usage, which he believes opens the door to producing a niche device that will satisfy the needs of a smaller group of people.

Wonder is going after gamers, but the eventual device won’t simply be a powerful smartphone. In a conversation with Digital Trends, CEO Andy Kleinman mentioned Nintendo’s new Switch console and how it almost bridges the gap between console and mobile gaming. “It falls short,” he added, saying “It doesn’t do everything. You can’t make calls, or use VR.”

Kleinman has previously been quoted in an interview as wanting to build, “one device to rule them all,” and a “unique and exciting,” product that solves the problem of having multiple devices, accounts, and bills. He expanded on this to us: “The iPhone took phones to the next level, but they’ve only been slowly evolving since,” Kleinman said. “Wonder wants to take the next big leap.”

What will Wonder be?

While a smartphone seems to be the most the most likely product, there may be more to it, if a tweet from the official Wonder Twitter account is anything to go by. It asks, “Are we building a phone?” and then replies by saying it’s, “Too early to tell.” There’s also plenty of talk about virtual reality and augmented reality, but without any details regarding the exact technology, or how it will be implemented.

However, the plan is to have the resulting Wonder device go on sale during the final three months of 2017.

Investment

Kleinman, who previously worked with game studio Zynga, has a 30-person team with him at Wonder according to TechCrunch, including the former vice president of engineering at Android alternative Cyanogen. Investors include names from WB Studios, Facebook, and several notable names outside of the tech industry such as Kevin Spacey.

When the alpha program launched, Wonder also added an About Us page to its website. It says people from companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Razer, Sony, and Activision are all working on launching Wonder. Kleinman clarified that people from all these companies are, “Active team members.”

Yes, the evidence available right now points to Wonder wanting to build a phone. However, that’s very different from actually putting a phone on sale. Projects like this could go either way. We’re still waiting for the Saygus V2/V Squared — a so-called “no compromise” smartphone — for example; and ZTE’s Hawkeye crowd-funded phone didn’t succeed, at least on the first try. But when people like Andy Rubin are still keen to get involved with making a smartphone, it’s strong evidence there’s still space for the right product.

We’ll keep you updated on Wonder right here.

Article originally published in July 2016. Updated on 03-02-2017 by Andy Boxall: Added in news of Wonder’s alpha test, plus comment on Wonder’s design plans from an anonymous source.