Can Motorola Win Back Europe With The Razr i, Its Speedy, New Intel-Powered Smartphone?

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Motorola outed its first Intel-powered smartphone today: the Razr i. The debut, strategically planned in London, raises questions of whether Motorola can claw back market share in Europe — where it’s been hammered as Android buyers opt for Samsung’s Galaxy range of devices (before Sammy, it was HTC making all the running).

The Razr i is also interesting because it’s Intel’s first smartphone from a very recognisable mobile maker. Earlier this year the Intel-powered Orange San Diego launched in partnership with UK mobile network Orange. A third Intel-powered phone, the ZTE Grand X IN, is due to arrive this month.

But neither Orange nor ZTE have the brand stature of Motorola — which is now owned by Google and still commands a sizeable chunk of the US market. ComScore pegged Motorola’s share at 11.7 percent last month, behind Samsung, LG, and Apple. Not ‘knock it out the park’ performance, by any means, but considerably better than it’s doing in Europe.  In the three months ending July 2011, ComScore calculated Motorola’s share of the smartphone market in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK at just 3.6 per cent — versus 31.7 per cent for Samsung and 34.6 per cent for HTC.

Playing tech specs top trumps is one way for Motorola to try and claw back market share in Europe — price could be another. Moto says the Intel chip inside the Razr i can achieve speeds of 2GHz — making it faster on paper than high-end rival devices, such as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S3, although, being single-core, it’s arguably less suited to certain tasks like multitasking.

As an Android OEM Moto also has to worry about standing out from the ‘droid-packing crowd — and adding Intel chips is certainly one way for it to differentiate from Samsung and HTC. But, as Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza notes: “Power and performance is just one part of the smartphone market — it’s also about apps and ecosystems.”

Add a question mark over whether the Intel brand cachet can translate from PCs to the smartphone space — tiny blue creatures jumping around on a phone might be more likely to conjure thoughts of bacteria than ‘OMG I must buy this phone’ — and leaning on Intel for a comeback remains a gamble for Motorola.

“Power and performance need to be translated into benefits the consumer can understand — such as responsiveness,” says Cozza. “The Intel logo — to the average consumer — is not going to say very much.”

Partnering with Intel may have one big bonus for Moto though: marketing support. And with Android behemoths like Samsung so dominant in Europe, Moto needs all the marketing help it can get here.

From a technology point of view, Intel’s chips themselves have yet to conclusively prove themselves as offering something worth sitting up and taking special notice of in the ARM-dominated smartphone arena.

Like the San Diego, the Razr i includes a photo burst model that allows a continuous sequence of photos to be snapped — 10 in less than a second. But photo burst modes are not unique to Intel-powered phones — both HTC and Samsung have added similar continuous shooting features to their phones this year.

Intel also makes claims of improved stability for its chips running Android — but it has had to concede that not all Android apps are compatible with its chips (some 5 percent aren’t, at the last count) so it’s been a case of swings and roundabouts thus far.

Setting aside the specs and technical capabilities of the Razr i, the biggest differentiator may well be price.  No official price has been announced yet but judging by the Razr M’s tiny $99 toll and the mid-range pricing of the Orange San Diego, the Razr i might come packing its own competition-undercutting price tag.

On the question of why Intel has chosen Europe as its smartphone testing ground, Cozza reckons it’s possible the carrier landscape has given it more of an ‘in’ here. In addition to the Orange San Diego, Intel chips have also found their way into a Russian carrier-branded smartphone — Megafon’s Mint device. It would seem that even a company as huge as Intel can benefit from a little helping hand when it’s trying to break new ground.

IHS Screen Digest analyst, Ian Fogg, also makes the point that Intel’s chips don’t currently support LTE — which precludes them from being launched in the US, and makes Europe, where 3G still dominates, a more obvious choice despite Moto’s relative weakness here.

The Razr i launch is also “a big vote of confidence by Google in Intel’s technology,” Fogg adds.

Update: Motorola provided the following statement explaining why it’s chosen a European launch for the Razr i: “We chose to hold our RAZR i launch event in London as the device will be available through a wide range of carriers across Europe and Latin America and will be rolling out over the next few months.”