This week served as an interesting study on how to launch a new mobile product — including what not to do. First, Nokia kicked things off with the unveiling of its make-or-break Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8 device, an event complete with an appearance by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and a recreated version of a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop. Just a couple of hours later, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt kicked off Motorola’s launch of three new Droid RAZRs. And then Amazon’s charismatic leader, Jeff Bezos, dropped a bomb the next day that showed both Nokia and Motorola how a launch event should be done.
Here’s why Amazon stole the spotlight — and why they’ll hold onto it even after Apple’s event next week.
Nokia certainly deserves credit for pushing the envelope with its new Lumia 920. During the press conference and afterward, the company did an admirable job demonstrating exactly what differentiates its product not only from the Android competition (which Nokia derisively calls monoblocks), but also from other upcoming Windows Phones. In fact, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop couldn’t help but take a swipe at Samsung’s Ativ S Windows Phone 8 device shown at IFA last week, saying that Nokia’s phone was actually working. Zing.
What impressed me most about Nokia’s event was the company’s focus on what makes the Lumia 920 uniquely compelling — including its PureView camera (which takes excellent photos in low light) and built-in wireless charging capability. Nokia went out of its way to demonstrate that there will be an ecosystem of products based on the Qi wireless charging standard by showing third-party accessories from JBL and Fatboy. There were even mock tables from a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf store, where you’ll be able to charge your 920 while sipping a latte.
The reason I give Nokia 3 out of 5 spoons instead of a higher score is because the company didn’t reveal anything about pricing, carriers or availability. (Now we now it’s likely to be November 2.) And while Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore previewed some never-before-seen features of Windows Phone 8, he made it clear that full details will be reserved for a future event. Why even have the event this week at all?
My second spoon deduction comes from a post-event PR flub of gigantic proportions. As it turns out, the promo video Nokia pimped to demonstrate the optical image stabilization technology inside its PureView camera was shot with a professional camera and not the phone — and there was no disclaimer. An apology eventually came, but only after Nokia got called out by multiple sites.
I knew it was a bad sign when Motorola had the band The Kin open up the launch event for its trio of Motorola Droid RAZR devices for Verizon Wireless. You know, the phone that Microsoft pulled from the market before you could say “whoops.”
Then things looked up with Google’s Eric Schmidt took the stage, with the chairman summarizing Android’s success with 1.3 million device activations per day. He also provided some nice context before Motorola’s new CEO, Dennis Woodside, took the reins, stressing that today’s smartphones are really supercomputers. Woodside gave a shout-out to Martin Cooper, the Motorola legend who created the first smartphone. Too bad the new devices didn’t quite feel like breakthroughs.
The Droid RAZR HD has a gorgeous and sharp display, the RAZR Maxx HD long battery life, and the Droid RAZR M a big screen in a compact package. But overall, none of these devices really wow, they just seem like upgrades to existing devices. Worse, we only got pricing and availability for the RAZR M, nor did Motorola provide complete specs. It didn’t help that a speed demo resulted in a blank page. (A Verizon rep said blame the Wi-Fi, not 4G LTE.)
Google’s Jelly Bean software won’t be available on these phones until after launch, either. This is the company Google bought, right?
After the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Iqbal Arshad, senior vice president for Motorola’s global product development. When I asked what really made his new devices innovative, he focused on design, highlighting the RAZR M’s ultra-compact chassis given its relatively large display. That is a feat, but for me, the wow factor was missing from these new products and the event itself.
There’s something about the look in Jeff Bezos’ eyes when he gives a presentation. He is the quintessential man on a mission, and you can tell he’s passionate not just about technology, but content and the people that create it and consume it.
That’s why Amazon’s CEO spent a fair amount of time talking about how his company is helping authors to direct publish and how people can learn more about the textbooks they’re reading and the movies they’re watching using the exclusive X-Ray feature. I give Amazon extra credit for rolling out comprehensive parental controls with the new Kindle Fire devices. The FreeTime feature makes it easy to limit what kids can see as well as their screen time.
Amazon’s event also trumped the competition because the company actually revealed the pricing for all of the products it released, including the low $119 starting price for the Kindle Paperwhite and the very aggressively priced $299 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD. We also know exactly when these devices will go on sale. Amazon left nothing to the imagination, which is refreshing.
The only slight flaw I saw in Amazon’s presentation was how much time Bezos dedicated to MIMO technology and the dual antennas the Kindle Fire HD devices will have for better Wi-Fi performance. It’s nice to have, but won’t compel consumers to choose a Fire over the iPad.
However, Bezos clearly and confidently articulated what makes Amazon different from Apple, saying, “We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.”
That’s a statement from a CEO and a company that knows exactly what they’re doing. Your move, Tim Cook.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.