When Motorola’s Razr first debuted in 2004, it blew up the sales charts and quickly became one of the most popular devices on the market. The diminutive flip phone may have begun life as a $500 fashion accessory, but much lower prices after the first year and a successful partnership with Apple for iTunes integration (not the ill-starred ‘Rokr’) quickly cemented the Razr at the top of the heap. Over the next four years, the Razr sold more than 130 million units. That might seem like peanuts now, but it was an impressive run for the phone market at the time.
Now, Motorola reportedly wants to bring the device back. A device that once cost as little as $69 to $99 up front (with a contract) is supposedly going to sell for $1,500 in 2019. That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that Lenovo is in talks with Verizon for an exclusive deal to bring the device to the United States, with plans to build roughly 200,000 of the devices. This time around, a folding screen would be the major attraction, though it seems as though the product will still be a folding phone/clamshell.
Nostalgia is a powerful attractive force for various products, but it’s not clear how well this will work when it comes to resurrecting archaic form factors. In order to live up to the name Razr, the device should somehow conform to its own original layout and design. There’s no doubt that the hardware specs will have been improved, but is anyone going to get excited about a 2.2-inch LCD (or OLED) in 2019, much less a 2.2-inch OLED on a $1,500 phone?
Now, supposedly this is where the foldable screen comes in, simultaneously justifying the high price tag and expanding on the useful screen real estate. This is going to take some tricky design work to pull off properly. For all the talk of foldable screens coming to major phones, manufacturers like Samsung have been extremely reticent to actually show off their concept designs. Some of this is undoubtedly an attempt to maintain competitive advantage, but we all know how first-generation technology tends to be rather buggy, with visible warts and flaws. There’s as much a chance that Samsung is trying to avoid negative buzz, particularly given the design of some of its prototypes.
It’s not clear how a device intended to echo mid-2000s styling fused with a foldable display will reawaken Millennial nostalgia for hardware that cost a little more than a quarter as much in inflation-adjusted terms. Blending the UI and capabilities of the 2005-2006 Razr with a modern Android device will also be a tricky fit — ignore too much of what made the device iconic, and you’ll lose whatever niche market you’re pursuing in the first place. Focus too much on updating iconic capabilities, and you’ll end up with hardware that lacks the modern functions that users expect. And no matter how you approach the problem, the general weakness in the smartphone market amid weakening Chinese demand and decreased earnings for both Apple and Samsung suggests that now is not the time to double down on ultra-expensive niche smartphone devices. Foldable screens are a neat trick, but it’s not proven that they’ll drive a new round of smartphone upgrades.
Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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