Dubious RAZR Resurrection Sheds Light On Absurd Cell Phone Churn

Motorola has struggled to regain its previous lead in the smartphone industry for years and the company has apparently grown desperate enough to tap device nostalgia for a product barely seven years old. The new Droid RAZR is an interesting product—it's the only cell phone we're aware of that incorporates Kevlar into its structure—but analysts aren't certain the move is going to help Motorola's sales.

"Just because it's called Razr doesn't mean it's the next Razr," said Alkesh Shah, an analyst at Evercore Partners in New York. "I don't think any one phone will be a game changer for Motorola."

Shah is probably right, though not necessarily for any reason that's the fault of Motorola. Everyone agrees that Motorola held on to the RAZR for far too long, then compounded the error by slashing prices to dump inventory. The resulting glut killed the company's margins. Despite this, Motorola made a killing on RAZR over the first two years of the phone's life. Today, only Apple products remain premium options for anywhere near that long.

These days, a new phone is lucky to remain at the top of the heap for months before being deprecated in favor of something new. The Droid Bionic, at six weeks old, has just been superseded by the RAZR, which ships with dual 1.2GHz processors (opposed to the Bionic's 1GHz) and weighs less. The Galaxy Nexus made its debut this week—a week after the Galaxy Stratosphere. Granted, it will be a few weeks before the RAZR ships, but the pace of new introductions is nearly frantic (and it hurts consumers). Not only is it difficult to know which Android phone to purchase, the rapid-fire launch pace means vendors have little incentive to spend much time debugging their products.

The short "premium" lifetime of a given phone means companies like Motorola know they'll make a significant chunk of their profits on early sales before they have to start discounting and offering specials. From the company's perspective, it's more cost-effective to focus on the new devices they plan to ship in three months rather than fixing flaws in shipping products. That's not meant to imply companies don't care about solving customer problems—but it's not where the money is.

Ice Cream Sandwich's own debut is a perfect example of the problem. Motorola is planning to ship the RAZR (running Android 2.3.5) in November. The Galaxy Nexus will ship in the same time frame, running ICS. Motorola has responded by telling the press that an ICS update would arrive at "the start of 2012." Forgive us if we're pessimistic on this one, but it took Motorola nine months to begin upgrading Xoom tablets to 4G—and that was for a feature promised on the box. The company isn't advertising the RAZR as running ICS, and isn't under any legal requirement to provide it.

The RAZR may improve Motorola's position and smartphone market share, but given the pace of phone launches, the real question is: "What's next?" It's small wonder some people turn to iPhones—Apple's products tend to remain at the top of the pack for at least 12 months and the company only offers three phones.

We're all for choice and Apple products admittedly only cater to people who want a specific phone style and are willing to put up with a virtual keyboard. Speaking as a techie, however, the prospect of shopping for an Android phone is rather daunting. Oftentimes, figuring out the best phone for your needs involves digging into the various errata and issues to make certain there's not a deal-breaking flaw.