Party like it’s 2004: Motorola is bringing the RAZR back

Mockups of what may be the new Motorola RAZR
Image: WIPO

In news that will resonate with anyone who has owned and loved portable CD players, Motorola has announced that it will be reviving its iconic RAZR mobile phone. In a nod to the original RAZR’s form factor, the new iteration of the Bush-era cultural touchstone will feature a foldable screen. And like the memorably pricey V3, the new smart RAZR will have a starting price of $1,500.

It’s been reported that the rebooted RAZR will be available exclusively through Verizon thanks to a deal Motorola’s parent company, Lenovo, has with the mobility giant. The corporation expects the nostalgic allure of the device to be quite powerful as it is planning to manufacture around 200,000 units. Other than its flexibility and a potential February release, no other details about the new RAZR have been released.

The RAZR’s Brief Moment in the Sun

When initially released in the latter quarter of 2004, the first RAZR became an instant sensation. In an era dominated by bulky, clamshell devices, the RAZR was a sleek metal and glass marvel. Released in bold colors like black, magenta, and hot pink, what was then the world’s thinnest phone was successfully marketed as the must-have fashion accessory of the era.

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Promoted by once relevant celebrities like Fergie and David Beckham, the RAZR also featured some once cutting-edge technology. Its two full-color LCD screens, MP3 player and limited web browsing capability made the RAZR feel like it was made inside the Matrix. And Motorola was smart enough to capitalize on the phone’s coolness factor; at launch, it was priced at a steep $599.99.  Within two years, Motorola had sold more than 30 million RAZRs and represented nearly a third of the mobile phone market.

However, the RAZR’s success was not long-lived. Oversaturation, uninspired successor devices, and the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 saw the RAZR lose its cultural cachet. Following a period of protracted decline, Motorola’s mobility segment was sold to Google in 2011 and then flipped to Lenovo in 2014. The company’s current market share is just under six percent.

Why the New RAZR Could Be a Success

Obviously, there are more than a few reasons why the new foldable RAZR could be a flop. Its price point is daunting. Though they look cool, foldable smartphones are an unproven commodity. And the smartphone market as a whole is not at its healthiest right now.

Nevertheless, there are also a few reasons to be optimistic about the revived RAZR’s prospects. The recently concluded 2019 Consumer Electronics Show made it clear that foldability is the future of mobility. Moreover, the sticker shock factor of the $999 iPhone X didn’t stop it from becoming a bestseller.

Most importantly, nostalgia-evoking electronics have done big business in the recent past. The NES and SNES Classics have cumulatively sold more than 10 million units.  Cassette tape has inexplicably become the hottest format in music. And Nokia’s revamped 3310 sold out across the world when it was released in 2017.

If the current condition of the smartphone market is anything to go by, the race to develop the phone with the biggest screen and brightest colors is over. But the race to develop the phone that most reminds greying Millennials of a time when they were young and Avril Lavigne, “Lost,” and cargo shorts dominated culture is just beginning.