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iPhone: Heading Down Razr's Path?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on June 17, 2008

In response to my recent iPhone story , a reader made an interesting point: The reason that Motorola’s legendary Razr eventually crashed and burned was that the company and its carrier clients have quickly discounted the device. By 2006, Americans could get the Razr for free, and it soon became the most widely held phone in the country. Very soon after that, no one wanted to own the Razr, the phone that everyone else had. Could the iPhone be heading down the same path?

Possibly: AT&T and international carriers have begun to lower the iPhone’s price. Some carriers in Europe already offer the phone to their subscribers for free. AT&T has made the new iPhone available for $199 with a two-year contract. Demand for the device is sure to spike as a result. But Apple needs to make sure it doesn’t spike too much — that the iPhone doesn’t turn from a status symbol into the next Razr, and fast.

Reader Comments


June 17, 2008 2:56 PM

MOT never followed up on the Razr with anything else of substance. I think if there's one thing everyone can agree on regarding Apple is that there is ALWAYS a new and improved model just around the corner.

Likewise I think we can count on Apple to diverisy the product line in a fashion similar to the iPod. (iPhone nano anyone?)

Last and most importantly, Razr NEVER established itself as a platform. Once you find yourself a killer app for your iPhone, you're in.

People aren't going to buy the iPhone cuz it looks cool (though it does), they're going to buy it for what it can do. All the Razr could do was make phone calls.


June 17, 2008 3:56 PM

Oh, the reductionistic fallacy of thinking in analogies. The Razr was a slick shell with unspeakably poorly slapped together UI so the fad quickly faded.


June 17, 2008 4:09 PM

The RAZR was a piece of junk. It blew up because it was the first phone to address peoples desire for something that looked pretty.

The iPhone is not only pretty but is also the most innovative product the world has seen in years.


June 17, 2008 4:09 PM

The difference is that the Razr was essentially just a sharp looking phone in an interesting form factor, and the functionality was duplicated by any other phone with a similar size screen and similar form factor.

The iPhone (and blackberry and other smart phones) are sold on both desirability of form and of function. The function will sustain it for the long term.


June 17, 2008 4:25 PM

Christian makes good points, but there are a number of free/cheap smart phones that do more than make calls - the Centro, Treo 650, 700, etc., Nokia's E series (I think it's 61, 62?), Samsung's Blackjack, Motorola's Q, various sundry Blackberries, and many others. It's not hard to get a phone that does web browsing, e-mail, apps, etc. As far as a huge number of apps made by large and small companies alike, no one comes close to the dated Palm OS. The reason for Palm's demise has little to do with functionality. It's fashion that's killing that OS. It's old looking. People would rather have a phone that has a Windows XP-esque flashiness (sliding menus, fading dialogue boxes, etc.) than which one has the most diverse applications.

The iPhone is all about form over function. It's not to say there's no function there, but if you remove the form, there's nothing at all to distinguish it from the other smart phones. 3G is nice, but EVERYBODY already had that before the iPhone 2.0 release.

People care about fashion and they care about bling. If they didn't, the average workweek in America would be 25 hours. Post modern capitalism is all about form over substance and Apple is a master of form. The trick of post modern capitalism has always been how to sell something to a lot of people while at the same time making it seem like something exclusive to as many people as possible. Apple is among the best at creating this illusion and I imagine that they are well suited to keeping ahead of potential down fall of the "did you see I have one of these" factor. If any company can sell almost everybody something while simultaneously making each person think they belong to a small and highly exclusive group, it's Apple. They are going to have a difficult act to balance with the economy slowing, but if anyone can do it, they can.


June 17, 2008 4:32 PM

the RAZR, ultimately was a simply device with a lifespan of a few years - & that's stretching it. iPhone surpasses this as it is an evolutionary product. Right now we say iPhone 3G VS iPhone to differentiate between the two current models but within a few months it mostly will just be iPhone. This will continue through the years as each model released will simply continue the name of the brand. This will aid in keeping the product constantly fresh but reliable which will be one of its major strengths against other headsets. Today its iPhone VS Nokia N95, tomorrow its iPhone against BB Thunder, next year iPhone VS somfhing else. Always it will be iPhone and this will concrete it as a household name.

The only competition will be Android - but this will be a war of the platforms. As a device iPhone will most likely have the advantage, as more and more people will seek a simple mobile solution which they can trust, rather than have to continue to wade their way through an endless sea of options.


June 17, 2008 4:33 PM

The Razr is a beautiful looking phone that just does not work very well. It is sluggish, and it breaks too often.

The iPhone is at least as pretty as the Razr, with the added bonus that it can actually do things. That gives it a big leg up on the Razr.


June 17, 2008 5:20 PM

I agree with much of what Sean says. However it would be wrong to underestimate the function factor. Apple has created the first smart-phone that can be used by anyone.

The UI is all important in this respect.


June 17, 2008 10:39 PM

Sean, you're wrong in so many ways. First you say:

"... there are a number of free/cheap smart phones that do more than make calls...It's not hard to get a phone that does web browsing, e-mail, apps, etc"

You're totally missing the point. There are plenty of "iPod Killers" that had a superior list of features to the iPod. But they've all gone the way of the Dodo. Why? Because it's not the number of features, it's the benefit to the consumer that counts. Features are meaningless unless they can be used. It doesn't matter how many competing phones do "web browsing, e-mail, apps, etc." What matters is that when apple implements those features they do it right. The features on Apple products are so easy to use that people actually end up using them. What a concept!

Second, you say:

"The iPhone is all about form over function."

You couldn't be more wrong. People often make the assumption that because Apple products are attractive that they must lack substance. This is as shallow as assuming that all blondes are dumb. Apple is all about having the form conform to function. How can you say that Apple puts form over function when people who use Apple computers, iPods and iPhones use more of the features on those products than any of it's competitors?

The reason the iPhone won't fade like the Razr is that the iPhone is not just a fad. It's a platform that provides elegant solutions to real problems that real people have.


June 18, 2008 12:09 AM

Sean wrote: ..."The iPhone is all about form over function. It's not to say there's no function there, but if you remove the form, there's nothing at all to distinguish it from the other smart phones..."

Well I almost never post to comments like this, but I, and probably a lot of other actual users, would strongly disagree. AFAIK, the iPhone was designed by Jobs & company to address the sorely lacking state of **usability** in the marketplace, not features.

I'm not sure if you've actually used an iPhone, or particularly compared doing the same functions on a different phone, but because of the iPhone UI I can get things done much faster, and much more pleasurably, than any other phone I've used to date.

You simply cannot compare these types of phones no a simple feature-for-feature technical comparison list. It's about ***usability***, something you can only really compare by using it.

For instance, I have a 3G 8525 and, while it's 3G and has a camera, I can actually make much better use of my time with an iPhone-- taking photos or looking up webpages on the 8525 (there's no way the 8525 can do web pages any near as legibly as iPhone) simply takes much more user-interface time and is way more complicated.

I, and likely a lot of other people, didn't buy iPhone because it had 2.5G or on other technical specs alone. It, like most Apple products, is about usability-- witness how the simple iPod has dominated where others came before, and it's a similar story for iPhone.

pk de C'ville

June 18, 2008 10:58 AM


"The iPhone is all about form over function. It's not to say there's no function there, but if you remove the form, there's nothing at all to distinguish it from the other smart phones. 3G is nice, but EVERYBODY already had that before the iPhone 2.0 release."

You seem to be ignoring a whole lotta owner quotes like: "I love this thing.... Best phone ever.... Will never get nay other brand...."

You think this is about form and no function. Well, that depends on what you mean by function.

As far as function goes, how about this is the > in the world. The other "SmartPhones" are ONLY PHONES! (And hard to use phones at that.)


June 18, 2008 7:29 PM

The iPhone is an object of desire however it has the applications and more besides to make it the best phone ever in my book. It's the screen pinch thats does it for everytime. Roll on July 11

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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