Motorola is pushing a new version of its once very popular flip phone, the RAZR. Ironically, one of the most anticipated Microsoft phones was a unique spin on the flip phone that didn’t make it to market but had the potential to be disruptive. Interestingly, my very first Microsoft phone was a flip phone with a dual-display with a name close to Star Trek. (As a side note Nokia built a phone that looked exactly like the Star Trek communicator that many of us thought it should have actually marketed).
What makes this all interesting is that smartphones appear to be in decline and flip phones are actually growing in market share, suggesting there is an opportunity to blend the concepts and create something new, disruptive, and exciting. It may showcase a path for a new Microsoft phone using Continuum that could give Microsoft another shot at the market.
Let’s chat about that this week.
Flip phones were really the last attempt to create phones that were great phones. They were relatively small. You could easily put them in your pocket. They were far more robust because the screen was protected open or closed because the phone was never flat. You could more easily prop it on your shoulder to talk, and they had battery life we measured in days not hours. Oh, and you could easily hold them in one hand, they were far cheaper to buy, and if you did break or lose one you didn’t have massive panic attack. If you had poor impulse control, if you texted while driving, you could hold it up, instead of looking down, so you were less likely of ending up in someone’s trunk. You know, while folks were clearly texting while driving with flip phones, it wasn’t until after the iPhone that we got laws outlawing this practice due to the jump in accidents.
So, in many ways, flip phones were better and until we all got over excited about the screen phones like the iPhone, they were the most popular configuration. But they clearly can’t do what we currently have phones doing. But…
Microsoft Continuum And A New Generation Of Flip Phones
What Continuum potentially does is allow a phone to become a PC. Granted, I really think that Microsoft and Intel should have partnered with this effort because, right now, the result is very similar to the ARM version of the Surface Tablet, you get Office but little else. So I do think that limitation needs to be addressed and Microsoft’s ex-CEO Steve Ballmer basically said it should do what Google did to Apple and basically clone the part of Android that runs the apps. Given Microsoft has one of the leading virtualization platforms that, at least, is possible.
So, I think, the next generation of flip phones, if they were going to be “smartphone killers” would need to embrace both the benefits of flip phone—perhaps jumping to the design that Nokia didn’t ship above—but through a data link work with tablets, PCs, and monitors to provide a seamless connected bridge to a larger screen and more robust platform.
Effectively, regardless of which device you had, the apps would morph (when appropriate) to the new screen size and allow you to move work to the appropriate screen. For instance, if you get an email that requires a short response you could stay on the phone. If it requires a longer response you could easily move to a tablet, or PC without losing state, and if you were sent a picture you could view it on a tablet or TV seamlessly in much the same way. Microsoft could include capabilities to push to airplane or car screens as well and suddenly you have a flip phone-class product that works easier and better than a smartphone alone does today. Most of this is possible today, it is just harder to do, and you often lose state—in other words you have to open another app on the different device and transfer the file. None of this is really rocket science—it is simply making a bunch of things that already exist work more easily and instantly placing a next generation flip phone in the middle.
Wrapping Up: The iPhone Killer
Actually, I think I really mean the “smartphone killer”, at least with respect to iPhone-like smartphones. I think there is a need for rethinking the smartphone with a device that returns us to something that is a far better phone but can—through accessories—do more than what a smartphone today does. Granted, it may take someone like Steve Jobs to step in and make this happen, but Motorola is showing a willingness to do this and Satya Nadella has clearly been far more willing to step up to challenges like this.