Karl Marx said that “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
And so, Motorola has revived the RAZR brand for its latest Android smartphone. In a statement, Sanjay Jha, chairman and CEO of the company, said: “Motorola RAZR is an iconic brand, and one that originally revolutionised the mobile device industry by turning a functional necessity into an object of desire.”
It is difficult to argue with the sentiment: the first RAZR device was undoubtedly iconic, with its slimline clamshell form factor standing out from rival products which lacked design flair in comparison. It kicked off the trend for thin devices, which its competitors rushed to emulate, while it also breathed new life into the clamshell form factor – and market leader Nokia was criticised at the time for not embracing this design.
More than that, the RAZR line also had something of a halo effect on the rest of Motorola’s portfolio. With the company now languishing among the device “also rans,” it is easy to forget that it was (not that long ago) a strong number two in the handset market – aided in no small part by its flagship terminal.
But as much as RAZR was an iconic device that gave Motorola a significant boost, it became something of a millstone for the company when its various attempts to launch follow-ups failed to generate traction.
The device slipped from its flagship position to the mid tier and then the low end, but remained the driver of Motorola’s volumes for some time. Despite its best efforts, the company never managed to come up with a replacement that captured the same success.
Against a backdrop of fierce competition from Asian upstarts such as Samsung and LG Electronics, and with Sony Ericsson having a strong position in the feature phone market, Motorola’s reliance on the RAZR cost it dear. And when the market moved toward smartphones, despite Motorola’s many early efforts – it dabbled with platforms including Palm OS, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Linux – the company looked defeated in the face of new competitors such as Apple, RIM and HTC.
But, although it is clearly a rocky road, Motorola has in recent months shown signs of recovery, and has produced a number of impressive Android smartphones. Its “lapdock” accessory is an interesting take on computing portability, and even the MotoActiv fitness accessory announced recently has a number of nice features.
While there are still question marks about how it will fare under the ownership of Google, undoubtedly the foundations are in place for it to take on a technology leadership position again.
So it is perhaps disappointing that the company has now decided it needs to hark back to past glories – and a successful handset that subsequently became an albatross around its neck. While the new RAZR echoes the slimline form factor of its predecessors, otherwise it is a massively different proposition, and the imposition of the established brand looks something of an opportunistic move.
Indeed, with one possible exception (it runs Android Gingerbread rather than Ice Cream Sandwich), the new device is a worthy rival to the Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus, which was also announced this week. It has an impressive feature set, and Motorola has made a number of software enhancements that add value on top of the core Android platform.
Which makes it a shame that it has been saddled with a name from 2004…
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members