Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) has big hopes headed into the holiday season. As Droid smartphone sales sagged, the company resurrected the most successful brand in the company’s history to reinvigorate sales. Thus was born the new Droid RAZR, an ultra-thin phone in the line that helped make Google‘s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android a household name.
The old RAZR made Motorola one of the most successful mobile-phone makers in history nearly 10 years back. Some 130 million RAZR phones were sold in three years. The new RAZR hasn’t performed nearly as well.
Now a rumor out of Hong Kong says Motorola is already moving to a new flagship device with a larger screen. Will the new device change the company’s luck in the smartphone market?
Engadget posted images of a phone whose rumored name is the Droid Fighter. A blurry image of the Fighter next to a Droid RAZR appeared on the forum PhoneHK on Sunday night. The Fighter is a beast of a phone, with a 4.6-inch screen — dramatically larger than the original RAZR’s.
And this isn’t the first time the name Droid Fighter has popped up in recent weeks. Alleged leaked documents from Verizon (NYSE:VZ) that surfaced on March 6 suggested that Motorola wil release a new phone under that name on April 12.
A new flagship Droid model would also make sense considering that Verizon’s plans to migrate its existing Droid phones to the latest version of Google’s Android operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich, are still fuzzy. The Fighter would likely hit shelves with Ice Cream Sandwich already installed.
Motorola could use a new flagship. The RAZR’s release was the centerpiece of a mixed holiday quarter. Smartphone sales were up at the end of 2011, but only slightly. Motorola sold 5.3 million phones during the period, compared with 4.9 million the year previous, yet the company’s mobile-devices business still reported a net loss of $70 million on revenue of $2.5 billion.
The RAZR rebirth simply didn’t connect with consumers the way the company had hoped last fall. The relaunch RAZR models were also widely criticized as having terrible battery life, which is why in January, Motorola rushed out the Droid RAZR Maxx, whose sole improvement is a better battery.
The Droid Fighter doesn’t seem like quite the honey pot Motorola needs to draw consumers away from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and competing Android manufacturers such as Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) and HTC (PINK:HTCXF). In fact, it just makes Motorola look like an imitator rather than an innovator.
Samsung already staked its claim on the big-and-beefy smartphone market with its 5.3-inch-screen Galaxy Note, just one of a number of similar handsets unveiled during the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona.
What Motorola needs more than anything at this point isn’t yet another Droid with a fancy screen or a faded brand name attached. It needs the full backing of its new owners, Google. While Google has said previously that it plans to let Motorola stay relatively independent, that it doesn’t want to be a major hardware player and that it wants to treat all Android partners equally, the only thing that could make Motorola a major contender in the global smartphone market is if Google champions the brand.
This may very well happen. Bloomberg reported in February that Google is placing its own Dennis Woodside in charge of Motorola once the acquisition is complete, replacing Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha. The Droid Fighter may not be the device that brings back the Droid brand, but the good news is that it may be the last Droid to not be stewarded by the successful hand of Google.