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LG's G6 phone will lose the modular gimmick

The tricked-out G5 failed to catch on with consumers, so LG will be taking a different route with this year's model.

The LG G5 featured a snap-on construction that let you attach different modules to the bottom of the phone. It flopped.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

LG is backing away from what made its previous top-of-the-line phone unique.

The company last year launched the G5, which ventured off the beaten path of phone design: Owners could swap out its bottom "chin" for other parts that added a camera grip or a souped-up speaker. In a sea of similar-looking phones, LG hoped that its unusual approach would turn heads.

It didn't.

"It was a meaningful test for us," said LG Chief Technology Officer Skott Ahn in an interview Wednesday. "Of course, we paid a lot."

Lessons learned, the company will move away from the modular approach for the upcoming G6, which will likely be a more conventional phone.

That shift marks a turnaround effort for LG as it attempts to win back mobile customers. The company, which sells everything from refrigerators to televisions, had made headway with a portfolio of affordable phones and its G line of flagship phones, but the G5 represented a big misstep.

"We have to follow customer acceptance," Ahn said, noting that LG's carrier partners also nixed the modular idea.

He said the idea of a satellite of accessories wouldn't completely disappear, suggesting other peripherals that didn't need to be plugged in to the phone could still be available.

Ahn's comments came against the backdrop of a big day for LG at CES 2017, the gadget extravaganza taking place this week in Las Vegas. The Korean conglomerate is showing off a wide range of gear, including a robotic lawn mower, the superthin W7 "wallpaper" TV and the Alexa-capable InstaView refrigerator with a giant touchscreen in the door.

On the Galaxy Note 7

LG isn't the only phone maker looking for redemption these days, amid a market that has cooled significantly over the last year or so. Samsung, struggling even as it clings to its renown as the biggest seller of smartphones, is working to recover from its troubles with the Galaxy Note 7. Meanwhile, the BlackBerry brand has been reborn under the care of Chinese phone maker TCL.

Even as an underdog, LG takes no pleasure in Samsung's troubles with the Galaxy Note 7, whose tendency to overheat, and even sometimes explde, resulted in its recall and elimination. Samsung offered a mea culpa to kick off its press conference at CES.

"We would rather learn from it, rather than enjoy it as competitors," Ahn said.

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Spurred by Samsung's problems, LG has amped up the testing that its new products receive. All of its upcoming products are going through a more rigorous process, Ahn said.

"There's a good opportunity to learn," he said.

On smartwatches

Along with Motorola, LG was among the most aggressive when it came to selling smartwatches. It launched a number of different versions, but curtailed its plans late last year.

Ahn confirmed that LG is still developing smartwatches, but didn't offer any timetable on when they would launch.

"I'm not sure when it's the right time to dip back in," he said.