Ultimate Death Match: iPhone Versus RAZR

by Chris Seibold Jan 17, 2007

As much as Steve was pushing the iPhone as a competitor for smart phones, and Steve was pitching that concept harder than a head high Nolan Ryan fastball, the truth is that the iPhone is only going to take on smart phones as a side project, the iPhone’s real target is the Motorola RAZR. Why the RAZR? Because at one time the RAZR was cool, the RAZR was status and the RAZR was hip.

Forgive a momentary tangent: your car, your phone, your computer do most definitely not make you cool or hip. You can’t spend your way to hipness. Well, unless you spend money on tattoos, leather jackets and smoking.

Back to the point, the market that Apple is really after isn’t the smart phone market, it is the people who need to be cool market, the people who bought the first cell phone, then bought the first startacs and then bought the first RAZRs. In other words, the iPhone is aimed squarely at those with disposable income who must be cool.

The objection at this point is obvious: if the iPhone is really aimed at those who believe that status comes with a price tag why did Steve spend so much time comparing the iPhone to smart phones? The answer is not obvious at first but it is simple: to justify the price. Smart phones are the most expensive cell phones on the market, if Steve had thrown the iPhone up against a $29.00 RAZR and revealed the $499 price tag the iPhone would have seemed wildly overpriced even factoring in the price of a nano, a cell phone and a camera.

That notion seems ludicrous right? Everyone who saw the keynote saw what the iPhone can do, comparing it to a RAZR is unadulterated lunacy, right? Before dismissing the argument out of hand let’s have an old fashioned bake off. This time instead of comparing Adobe Photoshop filters across platforms, we’ll compare the capabilities of the iPhone to the capabilities of the RAZR. A little spec sheet throw down so to speak.

Text messages··
Camera2 Mpx1.3 Mpx
battery lifeblowssucks
Internet browserSafariWAP
Screen size·
Physical keyboardnopekinda
Memory4GBWho Cares
Price$499basically free

The list is carefully chosen to show that, under the best of circumstances, the RAZR can perform the lion’s share of the iPhone’s functions. The fact that the RAZR is, on paper, almost a match for the iPhone noted it is time for a little reality.

The RAZR is a pretty horrible device when push comes to shove. As a phone it is nice, the clamshell design wraps about the head with a certain anatomical precision but that is where the usefulness ends. Want to send a text message with your RAZR? Good freaking luck, there is a reason that text messengers write messages in the easiest way decipherable and it has more to do with the limitations of the keyboards than stupidity of the U5ER5. Want to listen to .mp3s? Entirely possible in theory but in reality (particularly if you use the vile Verizon) it is a lot harder than it should be. Battery life? Pathetic. The user interface? Ah ahahaha, right up there with instruction manuals written in English by native mandarin speakers with a single semester of English.

It’s true, it’s true as a device for anything other than calling and looking cool the RAZR sucks. So the actual bar for the iPhone to surpass is now set. The iPhone doesn’t have to be a better choice for the corporate world than the Blackberry, it just has to be a better phone than the RAZR.

Now here’s the rub, the iPhone will be worse than the RAZR. First, we have to consider the primary use of the device: calling. The RAZR wins this challenge hands down. Where the iPhone has a melted bar of soap form factor the RAZR enjoys the clear advantage with the clamshell design. Where the iPhone must be ogled to place a call, RAZR owners can dial by feel. Finally, RAZR owners can go for pink, iPhone wannabes can opt for, well, iPhone black.

That, most would agree, is the end of the RAZR’s advantages. The iPhone will be easier to use for everything else. Text messages? iPhone wins. Digital audio player? iPhone. Internet browsing? iPhone. Watching videos? iPhone. The list continues and aside from calling, there is not a single place the iPhone loses out to the RAZR.

The iPhone ‘wins’ are impressive but the overall effect is negative. People use their RAZR for calls and that is about it. That won’t be the case for the iPhone. With internet browsing that actually works, with a video player that is almost watchable, with an iPod inside there will be no barrier to taking full advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities. Taking advantage of capabilities is another way of saying sucking down the iPhone’s battery life and running up the cell bill. The five hour battery life people never worried about with the RAZR will become a major impediment with the iPhone. Users who just wanted a phone will soon find themselves surfing the internet and paying for data with the iPhone. When users mentally compare the iPhone to their previous phone, the previous will seem simpler and less troublesome.

All in all, Apple has made a lustworthy product, sure the iPhone doesn’t do anything new but making something easy to do (say “Hi” 128k Mac) can be revolutionary. That is also the iPhone’s undoing, Steve said calls were the “killer app” and then bundled four more killer apps on the phone. Apps people will use, apps that will drain the battery. If every application was equally unimportant, no big deal but when the battery is gone because an iPhone user has been browsing Apple Matters archives you can bet they’ll blame the phone and not themselves. Then the RAZR will look mighty sweet.


  • “Steve said calls were the “killer app” and then bundled four more killer apps on the phone.”

    5 “killer apps”...So it’s like a team of ninjas that have to take a nap every 5 hours smile

    Andrew Harden had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 19
  • Why doesn’t the  iPhone use solar cell technology? Remember the handheld calculators that worked off even florescent light energy?

    Robert Pritchett had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 25
  • Instead of comparing the Apple iPhone to the RAZR, it might be more interesting to compare it to the Open Source iPhone, Neo1973. See a comparison here: http://www.linuxtogo.org/gowiki/OpenMoko/iPhone

    OleTange had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I have a Razr and I don’t agree that it works well as a phone.  It is fine for answering and making calls, but this is only one aspect of using this device as a phone:

    Handsfree: It is impossible to connect the handsfree device without stopping your car and eyeballing the connector - its one way and the shape of the connector makes it difficult to insert.

    Contacts: Clunky menus, slow performance, counterintuitive key sequences.  I still haven’t got all my contacts in this phone.  It is SUCH a chore.

    Sending Text Messages: This must be the microsoft version of predictive text.  I spend most of my time correcting the inexplicable choices made by the predictive text system.  It is likely to suddenly start entering numbers or ignore spaces.  The dictionary has glaring omissions.  I send text messages with lots more errors than I ever did with my Nokia and i notice i send shorter messages than before.  And there are no smileys !

    Ringtone: My phone is always changing itself from LOUD to vibrate or quiet - because the control is on the side of the unit and gets bumped all the time.  So i miss calls i shouldn’t.

    Signal Quality: Is poor and i find it difficult to hear people - there is a lot of clipping and i find i am asking callers to repeat themselves.

    The Razr does a good job in some areas - extracting phone numbers from text messages etc, but the user interface is very poor.  As an example, the menu system generally uses the left button for cancel/no and the right for done/yes.  But when sending a text message, the menu bar on the right hand side changes to a cancel/no function for the predictive text.  Its easy to send a message prematurely (CANCEL changes to SEND once you get rid of the predictive text suggestion) or lose it altogether.

    This is a clumsy design, and one which annoys every time it is used.  I think it is for this reason that some of us really, passionately, HATE our phones.

    If iPhone is as simple and pleasurable to use as the iPod or Mac are, and its comfortable to hold when using as a phone, and it is reasonably drop-proof, then it will be a success.  On this last point, the iPhone looks fragile.  I have dropped my Razr countless times in the past 18mths.  The plastic on the external display is cracked but everything still works.  But I suspect the iPhone will be much more fragile…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 124
  • The neo and the LG are closer in a lot of respects than the RAZR except the point wasn’t about how close the phones actually are. More about a phone being wildly popular and I don’t see either the LG or Neo being a wildly popular choice. Sure if you went feature by feature and compared everything logically you’d trend to those phones but Stve isn’t selling features, Steve is selling cool…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 354
  • sydneystephen, when I said the razr worked well as a phone I meant for calling, like a home phone. Every other gripe you mention is valid, particularly that switch from loud to vibrate (probably missed five calls from hadley in san fran because of that). Honestly I don’t try to do anything but call on the RAZR. Though if you have a MAc with bluetooth you can enter our contacts on the mac and sync it with the phone, much easier than trying to type stuff into the RAZR.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 354
  • Back to the point, the market that Apple is really after isn’t the smart phone market, it is the people who need to be cool market, the people who bought the first cell phone, then bought the first startacs and then bought the first RAZRs.

    Yes. but those people are insufferable.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Indeed Beeblebrox. Here I am reminded of a joke:

    Health club operator: So, the p[eople that come and work out every day, we call them the 2%ers!
    Customer: What about the people that sign up and never show up?
    Health club operator: We call them “profit”

    Which is kinda how I see this going. Insufferable or not it is all cash to Steve Jobs. Besides, is an iPhone more of a rip than high end bottled water?

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 354
  • Besides, is an iPhone more of a rip than high end bottled water?

    I’ve been advocating a lower-end (and arguably more efficient/useful) iPhone for a cheaper entry price for the “rest of us.”

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Hmmm, a cheaper iPhone that would be more efficient and more useful? If you could work another “more” and the word “profitable” in that description I’m certain Apple would then oblige.

    As it is I expect to see cheaper iPhones right about the time the glow starts fading from the first iPhone. I know Steve says the company just likes to make cool products but I’m convinced Apple prefers making cold cash…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Jan 17, 2007 Posts: 354
  • Of course! (sound of slap on forehead) . . . best article on the iPhone I have read.  Very honest assesment.  I tried FOREVER to like my RAZR . . . really . . . we get these things and even if it’s hard to dial or sync or hear . . . we forgive them because we are delighted with how thin it feels in our pockets, and we’re hoping the really hot girl will notice and ask us about it when they see it. (they NEVER do) It will be the same for the iPhone . . . masses WILL buy it and the price hurdle will drop every 3 months to allow more people to join the cool club.  I will be helpless too, as I have a need to be cool and am not willing to smoke or get a tattoo.

    I do kinda have a hunch though that apple will in the end get the interface details right . . . or better . . . or just bigger so the over 40 crowd can see the buttons.  Maybe the best news is that since it’s one big software interface they can keep modifying things until they DO work better, without a complete retooling.  If you look back on the iPod each generation slowly brought mostly good changes.  The current 30gig is my all time favorite . . . so far.  With the iPhone I believe they have develped a platform that will allow for continued refinement in much faster cycle.  That’s the real secret weapon here, apple does listen quite well to it’s users, and in an industry when new phones are constantly coming out . . . this platform will allow them an easy way to stay ahead . . . as needed.  The growing number of iPhone critics (those who realise that they are hopelessly uncool and would like to prevent others from being cool) will still be scratching their heads saying that their Blueberry X5000 Genius Phone can technically do more than an iPhone . . . of course us cool folks will stop their rant by yelling “look a puppy” and then rudely checking our apple stock on our iPhone!  BTW thank god I bought some apple stock last summer . . . otherwise I couldn’t afford to get the next instument of coolness, and I’d be forced to keep my . . . gulp . . . RAZR!

    schininis had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 8
  • Interesting read, having upgraded my contract to a Moto RAZR V3x late Dec (“just couldn’t hold out on the long-rumored&awaited; iPhone any longer” *sigh*) – this is a more refined/higher capacity model than earlier RAZR’s, and a joy to receive & play with, a bit less so to actually use daily…

    Yep, it has audio & video players, 2MP still & QCIF video camera’s, video calling via 3G networks, WAP browser & e-mail etc. etc… Also, being a relatively open platform capable of running 3rd party Java applets, I’ve added GoogleMaps (OK, the really great J2meMap sure ain’t iPhone-touch-tastic but does the trick rather well), Reporo chat (which connects to AIM/MSN/Yahoo/etc., allowing text chat & messaging at data rates - @less than a cent a message), Opera mini (which is wayyy better than the built-in WAP client - allowing a scaled-down access to full HTML pages), various games, Salling Clicker as an iTunes/Frontrow remote for my Macs (this really is genius, giving great feedback with track info & album art on the Moto display – allowing one to browse the library & select track/playlists from a different room from the media Mac)... and I am seriously looking forward to the full release of iSkoot which promises Skype-powered VOIP over GPRS at a fraction of cell-network calls…

    So, the Moto is Jack of many trades, even more than the IPhone promises - a converged Cell phone/Media Player/Internet client/Camera AND an open platform capable of running 3rd Party apps.
    BUT I still can’t wait to replace my month-old V3x with an iPhone, when it eventually reaches my distant (from Cupertino) shores…

    Why? The glorious Apple interface, the clarity and seamless ease-of-use the iPhone promises.

    While packed with functions & potential, the Moto only ever half-delivers in terms of user experience ie: ease of use, fluidity. The Digital Audio Player is more than passable (like a 1G iPod but with the ability to actually build playlists) but gives no feedback when the clamshell is closed… one can get around this by using the Sounds player, but this is *horrible* for actually managing music… I do actually use the V3x as my current mobile music player tho (last iPod died October, still waiting for that fullscreen/multitouch/100GB VideoPod with PVR, Apple!)...  while the 5-way navigation ‘joystick’ is OK for browsing the limited 1GB per MMC card library, it’d be ghastly for a larger music collection…
    Similar complaints can be levelled at just about everything else on the phone…
    Sync is pretty darn good, but not seemlessly integrated with OS X AddressBook (can’t maintain field info, splits contacts with more than 5 numbers/e-mails into multiple entries…)

    And this is where Apple has really nailed it: beyond having much better capacity storage capacity (I really like the idea of having 4/8GB on the phone – rather than a collection of itty-bitty MMC cards to lose…) & a screen that is twice the size/no. of pixels (320x480 over 240x320) & the revolution that is multi-touch – these technologies promise to deliver an interface that is as compelling as functional… that will be a pleasure to use… and, offers SEAMLESS integration with the OS X environment…

    *If* Motorola had the same experience with/attention to human interface design Apple has (but that’s like expecting Moto to *be* Apple, right? or to have been at the same party these past 30 years…), they could make the RAZR a winner – not what feels to me like my stop-gap solution…

    Final thought, tho: my recent V3x upgrade will at least let me hold out on my iPhone lust long enough to see what Apple does deliver/allow in terms of extra/3rd party software. VOIP anyone? High-end Apple TV/Mac media remote?
    Just how long will the Cingular deal take to cool off before iChat AV & a front camera appears on a future iPhone?!
    My $599 (which’ll undoubtedly translate into an even more scary sum in my local currency *groan*) is waiting, Apple… smile

    moloko had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2
  • in terms of extra/3rd party software.

    I believe this question has been addressed, and the answer is “none.”


    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • yup, sure, that does paint a gloomy picture - and seems to be the general word doing the rounds - but The Word from The Steve’s mouth went:

    “These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”


    I think the last line suggests otherwise - that there will be future apps. from both Apple as well as other developers, though their functionality & quality will be tightly controlled by Apple…

    There’s just too much potential in this device – it is being marketed initially as a converged Cell/Media/Network device (an über-RAZR), but is ultimately Apple’s new ultra-mobile platform – smarter than smart in June, more genius still to come…

    moloko had this to say on Jan 18, 2007 Posts: 2
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