The Devil Dials Prada

Knowing and understanding various ways to drive growth is tied directly to knowing what market (or segment) you’re serving. If Motorola, Nokia and other firms in the communications industry view themselves as handset makers, that’s actually just the start. For a certain customer segment, handset makers are in the accessories business. Apple’s iPhone is the latest proof that the market is not just about phones but about lifestyle. Apple’s phones are not even in user’s hands yet, but it’s a powerful signal to the industry–ignore design and fashion at your own risk.
Fashion and technology frequently seem to have a bad case of sibling rivalry. Those who love design get accused of going for the look, rather than substance. The geek crowd, on the other hand, sometimes ignores form in favor of functionality that’s so unattractive it gets relegated to a drawer or closet.
Look at the early days of the cell industry. Only 24 years ago, on March, 6, 1983, Motorola released its DynaTAC 8000X. With a robust talk-time of 30 minutes, the 8000X took ten hours to recharge, lasted an amazing eight hours between charges, held thirty dialing locations in memory and weighed eight pounds. The cost? Only $3,995 in 1983 dollars. Within weeks there was a waiting list of thousands and in 1984 there were almost 300,000 avid cellphone users in the world. The number of users today is closer to two billion.
We’ve come such a long way that it’s easy to laugh at those first generation handsets, but the technology was incredible for that time period. The latest lineup of fashion phones look nothing like the “bricks” of two decades ago. Handset makers are still working hard to get it right.
When Wired runs banner ads on, a site that states men can “geek out with style,” you know there’s a change in the air. It’s also apparent when we see LG hire former Apple designer David Levy. An article discussing the best phones recently selected the LG 8500 and LG AX490 as the top music and data phones. There’s no doubt manufacturers are responding to an audience that has virtually no price resistance and frequently upgrades their handset or even use multiple cell phones.
That was then, this is now
Motorola is an example of a company that has moved a long way from the “brick” and must add momentum to fully realize handhelds as a fashion accessory. With a product line as slender as a model on the catwalk, the Razr and its cousins testify to the power of design. Just as Apple’s use of color in computers influenced all kinds of electronic devices, we’re now seeing the influence of “Moto-thinness” in cell phones, MP3 players, PDAs and even laptops. With offerings like Razr V3i Dolce & Gabbana, the new Razr V3xx Gold, and even the Krzr K1, you’d think Motorola had established its street cred. Its products were featured for a month in the store window at Earnest Sewn in New York, purveyors of denim with an average price of $200 per item. It’s a good start, but we’d argue they can go much further to demonstrate their understanding of the upper-level consumer for whom style is a key purchasing determinate. The real question is whether Moto can simultaneously develop deep relationships with two very different segments: those who have it and those who aspire. It’s the Louis Vuitton customer vs. those who are eager to purchase the handbag Jessica Simpson was seen with in People last week.
Danger keeps announcing special designer editions of its Sidekick (used by Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in the film The Devil Wears Prada), while keeping features important to its young user demographic–including Bluetooth, a 1.3-megapixel camera and a music player. Now that fans have had their Juicy Couture, Lifted Research Group and Diane Von Furstenberg editions, an edition bearing the name of NBA 2006 Finals MVP Dwayne Wade is being launched at the end of February, featuring a textured back that feels like a basketball. This is an example of an effective marriage of design and tech. When The NY Times’ David Pogue is quoted as saying, “…what will strike you most is the overwhelming thoughtfulness of its software design…” about a product and average usage is 3800 mobile messages per month, customer and product love are in full bloom.
Top couturiers design handsets
Even the venerable lords of audio design, Bang & Olufsen, have decided they can’t resist cell phones. They have released the Serene, made by Samsung. The unusual design reverses the traditional clamshell, placing the screen in the user’s hand and a round, retro keypad on the top portion of the shell. Proving they know how to snag the couture customer who adopts early and sets the trend for others, Samsung just sponsored designer Mina Lee’s debut, a Fall 2007 collection, for Derercuny.
LG has announced the KE850, a touch screen phone. Using the KE850 as a base and collaborating with Prada, one of the top design houses in Italy, LG delivers a handset that could upstage Apple’s iPhone, providing exceptional design and, unlike many “fashion” cellphones, reasonably solid technology.
Nokia’s yet-to-be-released L’Amour Collection features the 7370, a swivel design with 3D stereo speakers and etched metal with leather-inspired accents, and the 7389, a long, slender phone with a 2-megapixel camera. With the 7610 (the “lipstick” phone), 7280 and 7270, they represent Nokia’s foray into “fashion phones.” The tagline on this section of the Nokia site is an oxymoron Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, could appreciate, “Fashion that never goes out of style.” Actually, it’s critical to the business that fashion evolve and change.
Finding a profitable balance between design and technology can be done. Cell phone vendors that listen to customers have the potential to hit the “sweet spot” and optimize revenues. With customers moving quickly from handset to handset as styles and technology evolve, winning and retaining customer love has never been more important.

0 Responses:

  1. suzanne dowling. March 7, 2007 at 10:51 am  

    Great article! How about links to photos of these many new, cool devices? Would great to view as reading the article…all the best, suzanne dowling


Leave a Reply

Watch this now