Motorola successfully launched the Razr 40 in the Middle East and Sergio Buniac was in Dubai talking about his company and the new family of foldable phones. Sergio shared a lot of insight on the new phones and how they’re being received worldwide as well as the rollable phone that was showcased at MWC earlier this year.
I’d like to thank him for his time and the full interview follows. It’s been edited to read better.
How has the market received the Moto Razr 40 series?
It has been very positive. Since this is our third-generation product, we have learned a lot from the previous ones…. we have years of experience and data on what consumers want, and so we are now doing a family of products.
The razr family is disrupting the market in several ways, our top purchase drivers are design (foldable, compact size, easy to carry) and large external display, proving that consumers are looking for more than a candybar smartphone.
In the U.S., 20% of our users are coming from iPhone and 48% from Samsung. Our sales volume is 3x when compared to the previous 3 generations of razrs and being our highest shipments and activations ever. Our consumer research also indicates 37% of consumers would consider a foldable for their next device.
We also spent a lot of time on what you call “Beyond Device”. If you look at the device it is ‘complete’ in terms of a feature set. But there’s also a lot of work on the external experience. For example, we worked with Spotify – they did a customised screen where you can operate in different modes. You have mirror mode, Photo Booth mode, etc. Plus, we worked with Pantone to identify trendy colours, which was something that didn’t exist in the category.
You mentioned a family of foldables- was that always on the cards? Or something that came up recently.
Motorola has worked to refine and evolve each device to meet the needs of modern consumers. Through research and consumer feedback, we decided to expand our razr franchise to become a family and serve more target audiences. With the family of devices, we offer a premium product with almost no trade-offs, as well as one which was more accessible where customers are aware of the trade-offs.
If you see the price on launch day, the Razr 40 was 40% less than the razr 40 ultra but its wasn’t a ‘cheaper product’. The idea is to give the choice to the consumer.
Coming to colours, this Pantone Viva Magenta on the Razr 40 Ultra is amazing. How did you come up with this?
We’ve done a multi-year deal with Pantone. People always think about dark or black or blue as the main colour. We want to break barriers internally (in Motorola) as well as externally as far as colours go.
Weight: 184 g | Thickness: 7 mm | Screen: 6.9” Retina, AMOLED, 120Hz | Processor: Octa-core Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: up to 512TB | Cellular: 5G, Nano-SIM, eSIM | Rear camera: 12MP Dual Camera | Front camera: 32MP | Battery: 3800 mAh, 30W wired charging, 15W wireless charging
- Massive Cover screen
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- Beautiful Design
- Camera could be better
- Last year's chipset
We’re already seeing this change reflected in our results. Where we expected the Pantone colour to be 5-10% of our sales, we’ve seen 30% of the sale being that colour in some channels. And It’s not only attractive to females. We are seeing that in some markets that 30% of buyers are young men. So, colour is agnostic. It’s about your personal individuality.
And lastly, we don’t believe we need to do it all ourselves. We aren’t a global authority on colours- Pantone is. So why should we choose the colours? We ask them to.
So people are looking for change?
We’re seeing our newest razr devices drive a lot of interest among consumers, and we’re selling out of razr+ in many markets across the globe. In the US for example, around 20% of our razr buyers are coming from iPhone, which has never happened before. Our global data shows that over half of the search we are getting are coming from iOS- for the first time those type of consumers are looking for options. And that’s very exciting for us.
Where did Rollable come from? And why do you feel it’s the next major step?
One of our core focus areas is to reimagine device form factors to solve customer pain points and enable dynamic experiences. One such component technology we’ve invested in is flexible OLED screens, or pOLED. Our 312 Labs team has a new Rollable smartphone concept – it doesn’t sacrifice screen size when you need it, and it can retract to a size smaller than any other premium smartphone to fit in the smallest of pockets.
At our 312 Labs in Chicago, we are testing the latest innovations in smartphone technology, but they might not necessarily come to the market. The rollable technology has a lot of potential but there are currently trade-offs which we need to look into.
The one you saw is working at MWC 2023, it could even be your phone with a few trade-offs. So, in that specific case, should we go on mass production, or should we do a limited edition? That may take a little time to decide. But we are looking into it, we don’t know exactly when it will be out, though. We’re not announcing, instead, we are exploring.
Looking at Motorola’s current line-up, what’s the strategy here?
I took this job five years ago. At that time, we had good products and an engineering team – the basic stuff. But eight years before that, the company was losing millions of dollars, so our first aim was to bring this business back to profitability.
There were two problems with the company. One, we were losing money and the second, there was this belief that this is a tough industry and that it’s so difficult. So, the first journey was to correct these.
So, we decided at that moment that we would do what we knew how to do well. We knew how to do Moto G. We invented this concept of price for money – we invented this 10 years ago with the Moto G.
We knew how to do Latin America. We have been investing in the brand a long time. We knew how to do North America, especially prepaid, and then we kept a little more quiet in the other markets. We called that first stage the ‘fight to survive’.
This stage of ‘Fight to Survive’ brought its own challenges. First was, if we were surviving, how could we invest in the future? The second was our time to market. So ‘fight to survive’ was about improving our cycles getting back to the basics.
We slowed things down and first stopped making flagships. There was an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars and only a chance to be right. So we stopped it for the first two to three years and that showed results.
Now we need to move from ‘Fight to Survive’ to ‘Fight to Win’. We broke it down into three segments.
- First was enterprise, we looked at Lenovo, and the legacy they have, and knew we could use it to our advantage and get to market very fast. A year or two working on that and we have the ThinkPhone. If you look at our enterprise solutions, I think we are best in class.
- Second was the Premium segment, which was split in two parts; premium and foldable. For premium, we created the Edge franchise. With this I told my team not to worry about the competition. We worked on our displays, brought Curved OLED, we worked on our partnerships like the one with Pantone and we worked on materials and design. For example, we brought Vegan Leather to the Moto Edge 40 and soon you’ll see it on the Moto G and E level too.
- The last one is software. We are putting a lot of effort behind software. You’re gonna see some interesting announcements coming soon.
In the next two years – where is Motorola’s largest concentration going to be? Should I be most excited for the next foldable or the next Edge?
I think, number one: you will see us playing in what we call the ‘business essentials’ such as the Moto G- what I think is our bread and butter. In those category, you should expect very credible innovation because now we are bringing a lot from what we did in the premium space. You’re also going to see some very incredible cameras coming to that level.
The Edge series is very important. Edge has grown from 2% of our sales a year and a half ago, to 15% of our sales right now. It’s a huge jump. You should expect the importance of this doubling or tripling our portfolio in the years to come.
Number two would be foldables. Now when I say Foldables, I mean everything from our current device to rollables and anything of the future. We plan to have aggressive pricing, new features and a whole family of products.
Abbas has been covering tech for more than two decades- before phones became smart or clouds stored data. He brought publications like CNET, TechRadar and IGN to the Middle East.