Watching a brand move

Watching a brand move


Alcatel Idol X

Alcatel TCL is a brand on the move at Mobile World Congress. Dwarfed by competitors such as Nokia and Samsung on most metrics – unit sales and revenues – it is taking a refreshingly creative approach to finding a niche where it can be meaningful to customers.

This move is partly about function – its latest top of the range devices run Android and feature large, high definition touchscreens, allowing customers to do much more than they would on Alcatel’s better known low end feature phones. However, I also sense a deeper potential, embodied in the bold colour choices and nuances of form factor design I was shown by Alcatel’s Spencer Douglass.

Many manufacturers are taking their cue from Nokia this year at MWC, finally broadening the range of colour and material choices beyond silver, black and white faux metals. Alcatel, however, has a valid claim to pedigree in this area. It has always been known for its bright colour palette and a willingess to experiment with form factors.

This is apparent in their latest products. Like many others, Alcatel has launched a 5 inch device – the Idol X – but it is the only one I handled which felt pocketable. It has achieved this by focusing on minimising the size of the bezel around the screen. According to Douglass, it is currently the smallest out there, helping to minimise the bulk while giving users the screen real estate for which there seems to be an insatiable appetite.

The materials used also tell a story about the type of customers they are trying to serve. Most of the products come in a choice of glossy colour – red, yellow, green, pink, orange – or a similar palette of soft touch finish, giving some choice in tactile experience. Even the mid-range devices exhibit little flourishes, like a metallic pink wrap sandwiched between the glossy pink and black front and rear casings – it’s not my thing, but there are few customers who won’t welcome having the choice.

Douglass also hinted at further experimentation in materials and, refreshingly, smartphone form factors, are part of the company’s future plan. Given its history in QWERTY keyboard-equipped feature phones, might Alcatel be the company which answers the growing demand for a capable, mainstream smartphone with a physical keyboard?

Brand is intangible, but something about Alcatel’s approach felt…right. Seen up close, the products seem fresh, good value and – although they follow the familiar formula of touchscreen slates – sufficiently distinct to catch the consumers eye. A positive move for the company and, if it succeeds, a positive boost to competition which might spur others to examine their own brand DNA.

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