Motorola this week announced the first smartphone resulting from its partnership with Intel, the Razr i, which is set for availability in Europe and Latin America imminently.
Having seen the device in action, it certainly seems a very capable smartphone, ticking all the right design and feature boxes.
But Motorola is set to come up against the same challenge that Nokia will with its recently announced Lumia device refresh: demonstrating to consumers that the products are not only better than their competitors, but that they are good enough to lure users away from their existing handset allegiances.
Undoubtedly, the Razr i has some significant plus points. Motorola is claiming a battery that is 40 percent more powerful than the iPhone 4S – and coincidentally, a non-technical colleague was recently bemoaning the poor battery life of most current smartphones. And the screen is also said to offer a considerable viewing advantage over both the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5, despite the latter’s hike in size.
But as I wrote recently, with the emphasis on device differentiation moving from hardware to software, it has become increasingly difficult to communicate differentiating points to users. And it is extremely difficult to find a bad smartphone among the well known vendors.
And in some ways, the challenge Motorola will face is greater than that facing Nokia. Nokia, after all, is using a different operating system than those in the flagship devices of its main rivals, and has a close relationship with Microsoft that it can exploit. And the Nokia brand still has a certain cachet in some markets.
In contrast, Motorola is using the same Android platform as its rivals – the Razr i is not even set to ship with the latest version – and its ownership by Google does not appear to have benefitted its products in any real way as yet.
And in the markets where the Razr i will be available – Europe and Latin America initially – the Motorola brand, while familiar, is unlikely to be much of a dealmaker.
The fact that Motorola has not confirmed a US launch for its new device is likely to be related to the fact that, as-yet, an LTE version is not available – and in this market, it is becoming a tick-box feature for all but the most modest smartphones.
In contrast, LTE has not yet achieved the same status in Europe and Latin America, meaning HSPA+ support is a “good enough”.
There is one area where Motorola has something of a differentiator, in that it is one of the few to offer a device powered by an Intel chip. And since the Intel Inside campaign, first launched in 1991, the company has managed to achieve a higher profile than other component suppliers.
But for the average consumer, the world of processors is an alien one, filled with buzzwords and numbers. Intel will bring you 2GHz and Hyper-Threading: is that better than 1.5GHz quadcore Tegra, or a Snapdragon S4 Pro? And will the staff of The Carphone Warehouse or a friendly mobile operator be able to help explain in an understandable way?
At least Motorola seems to be making the right steps in getting its message across. It has started handing out demo devices to the media, in order to enable coverage based on real-world exposure rather than spec-sheets. It is promising a “huge” marketing campaign, delivered in partnership with Intel.
The final thing it needs in place is distribution, at the right price. The company has already named some partners in the UK and Germany, including operators, MVNOs and retailers, so the former certainly appears to have been covered.
So far, however, it has not talked price points. With so much competition in the market, and with Google’s deep pockets for support, it may make sense for the company to price aggressively, in order to build market share and presence.
But with Apple’s iPhone 5, Nokia’s Lumia 820 and Lumia 920, Samsung’s ATIV S and Note 2, LG Electronics’ Optimus G, and Sony mobile’s Xperia refresh announced in recent weeks, and HTC set for an event imminently, competition for shelf space among the vendors will be tough.
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