Ian: Moto’s Aura of desperation


Motorola has a long history of being completely out-of-step with the market.

Apart from a brief fluke of luck four years ago when the first RAZR arrived on the scene Motorola has usually been all-at-sea with its business model and certainly behind the development curve of its rivals.

Those of us with long enough memories recall in 1996 when Motorola was trying to sell its analogue ETACS StarTAC flip for nearly £1,000 in Harrods just as cheaper GSM phones were heralding that ETACS was about to follow Betamax around the S-Bend of technical oblivion. When Mobile News pointed out the lunacy of this strategy we were promptly blacklisted by the UK company’s then head of PR (no interviews, no advertising, no access etc).  Two years later a new influx of managers admitted to me that the analogue StarTAC’s pricing model was indeed  unworkable but that policy was being dictated from Chicago head office where GSM was regarded as an irrelevant European technology soon to be surpassed by the American CDMA system.

The news that Motorola has now signed the walking cliché David Beckham to promote the £1,000 Aura to those of us still enjoying our big bonuses shows that the works of American philospher George Santayana (“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”) have not made much of an impact in the ivory towers on Planet ‘M’.

Nokia’s vanity division ‘Vertu’ proved that it is perfectly feasible to carve a limited market out of selling tarted-up old kit to people with more money than brains.  Nothing wrong with that during the boom times. But when the world is dealing with the worst economic downturn in 70 years, what bright spark(s) at Motorola could possibly deduce the year 2009 represented a window of opportunity to flog a low-spec mobile phone for £1,000?

Global handset sales have fallen off a cliff. Nokia and Sony Ericsson are nursing catastrophic Q1 losses. I think we can agree that the correct response to anyone attempting to sell a mobile these days for a SIM-free price of £1,000 is probably to summon the men in white coats.

In Motorola’s case the marbles have been well and truly lost. The Aura is not just any handset. Beneath its glittering stainless steel case, and sapphire screen lurks a device of astounding mediocrity. The Aura doesn’t even support 3G. So, limited email, no GPS, and snail-speed web browsing and data speeds  – even if you did want to use the 2MP camera to take a picture of your new superyacht and send it to your poorer pals.

A visit to the never-never land inhabited by Motorola’s copywriters shows just how far form has overtaken function in Motorola’s mindset:

“Inspired by luxury watches and handcrafted design Aura is a unique handset that breaks convention and re-establishes artistry in mobile device design and manufacturing. Combining superb craftsmanship and a distinctive interface, Aura delivers a sensory experience that is second to none for those with refined tastes. From the moment Aura owners pick up their devices, they elevate their own experience in luxury and unmatched quality”. 

It’s hard to stop one’s eyeballs rolling out the door when subjected to such guff.

Surely at least one individual within Motorola realises that a mobile phone is purchased as a personal communications device, not as a bauble or bit of bling. Surely someone within Motorola understands handset sales are driven by technological advance – not sapphire crystal displays.

The hiring of Golden Balls for a fee probably not under seven-figures would possibly make sense if Motorola was using the Aura as a hero product atop an extensive range of lower-priced products. The marketing wonks call this the ‘halo’ effect. Audi makes an £85,000 R8 supercar so it can flog bread-and-butter A3’s. In Motorola’s case the cupboard is bare. Which makes the idea of spending millions promoting an obsolete bit of 2G kit even more ludicrous.

Apple and RIM have set the new paradigms of handset and interface design and functionality now being emulated and expanded by Nokia, LG, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung. We’d advise Mr Beckham to take the money and run. He sure as heck won’t be selling many Auras.