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End of the road for high-end phone makers?

High-end phone maker Vertu has taken a final bow. Who else is to follow?

brunch Updated: Jul 29, 2017 21:56 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Though all Vertu phones spelt luxury, they were an embarrassment in terms of features and specs
Though all Vertu phones spelt luxury, they were an embarrassment in terms of features and specs

I’m not going to build this up with some melodramatic opening paragraph. Let’s just get to the bones of it right away. I hate luxury tech. I hate everything about overpriced tech that is just ordinary gadgets wrapped up in either premium materials, expensive gems, or have an add-on luxury brand name slapped on. The last bastion of this overpriced crap has finally fallen. Vertu, the makers of ridiculously terrible phones, have died. Brutally!

Anti-luxury

I’m not against luxury in itself. There is a market for it. There are certain categories that fit well within, and there will always be under-confident people who need overpriced junk to prop up their personalities. Just leave tech out if it. It doesn’t work and has a fatal flaw within. Unlike other luxury items that are supposed to be classics or hand-me-downs for generations, tech and the inherent innovation changes within seconds. That extremely ugly gold phone with a barf-inducing snake wrapped around the front made out of exquisite diamonds, is redundant within a year, as phone technology changes at the speed of light. You really can’t rip that glistening snake off and staple it to the next phone you want to buy. So you basically retire the phone, the snake and your stupidity to the back of a cupboard.

Unlike other luxury items that are classics or hand-me-downs for generations, tech and the inherent innovation changes within seconds

The dream story

Vertu was the flag-bearer of the notion of luxury tech having a huge market. It was born around 1998 with the idea that the still in its infancy portable phone market would grow to be a big one, that people would want a standout, super exclusive handmade phone made of exquisite materials. In 2002, Vertu Signature was introduced to the world. Vertu (a Nokia company) tasted astounding success. Multiple new lines were created, more premium materials were introduced, new terms for craftsmanship and production were coined, and Vertu became the first true luxury tech company to laugh all the way to the bank. Ascent, Constellation, Kissho, Quest had handsets clad in titanium and sapphire glass. Priced from US$15,000 to as much as US$3,50,000 for customised jewel-encrusted ones, the world couldn’t get enough of them. Till they did, and this whole charade went bust.

The S-Works McLaren Venge bicycle uses space-age materials for high performance

The nightmare

Vertu’s problem was the same as any other luxury tech company. Till mobile phones were simple devices that didn’t do much, Vertu sold well. Once smartphones came in, innovation started to flow and phones became god-like devices. Vertu’s phones became an embarrassment in terms of features and specs. Today, Vertu has been sold to multiple owners, has acquired a debt over US$150 million, and is being shut down.

Luxury works but...

The Platinum McBook Air is completely made of platinum

There are some areas of tech where the luxury slap-on works. But only in areas where the technology doesn’t change overnight. Like audio (the Megatrend MKIII Speakers cost around US$80,000) where a person will keep that system for years. Performance (the S-Works McLaren Venge Bicycle costs $18,000) where space-age materials make a difference, or after bespoke customisation (the Platinum MacBook Air made from solid platinum costs about $9,000).

The Megatrend MKIII speakers are meant for millionaires.

Tech isn’t made for luxury. Best to leave tech to flourish under its own momentum of lightning changes and cutting edge breakthroughs. Vertu dying is a sign that luxury tech is finally dead too. Some say Vertu will make a comeback. Don’t hold your breath!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, July 30, 2017

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