A $2000 Cell Phone, Motorola? Good Luck With That

Swiss precision. More than 200 tiny parts. A sapphire crystal. A price tag that’s close to twice what I paid for my first car. It sounds like something from Rolex or Omega. But it’s the Aura, a new cell phone from Motorola.

The Aura has the following features:

–the phone industry’s first round display, with 16 million colors and 300-dpi resolution;

–a stainless-steel frontpiece that takes two weeks to make;

–an “assisted opening” blade mechanism that involves more than 130 ball bearings (” an effect more like opening a luxury car door than accessing a mobile device”) and which is visible through the back of the phone;

–Stereo Bluetooth!

(Motorola’s press materials don’t mention whether it has Internet access or not; if if it has a browser that reformats pages so they’re round, I’m impressed.)

Aura is available exclusively from Motorola. It costs $1995 and will start shipping in December; there’s a “Buy Now” button on the Aura site, but nothing happened when I clicked it.

This watc–er, I mean phone is clearly a big deal for Moto, one that the company must have been working on for a long time. The timing of its release turned out to be unfortunate; a phone that costs two grand would have sounded excessive no matter what, but now it sounds weirdly out of touch with the world we find ourselves in as of mid-October 2008.

(Although it might be a convenient way to convince yourself you’ve saved $2000: Briefly consider buying an Aura, they go for a free phone from your carrier instead.)

I’m not immune to the attractions of luxury watches. Actually, I collect vintage American timepieces and wear a watch that’s fifty years old, with at least as many moving parts as the Aura. (An electric Hamilton Ventura, in case anyone out there cares.) And I admire serious craftsmanship in consumer electronics, like the new MacBooks’ unibody case.)

That said, I don’t understand the Aura. (Or at least most of the things that make it the Aura: The idea of a round display is cool…or at least not inherently absurd.) The tiny moving parts inside a watch are fascinating because they’re doing something that’s essential to life as we know it–telling time–and they’re doing it by a means that has centuries of history behind it. (If someone invented the hand-wound mechanical watch movement today and proposed it as a replacement for cheap, reliable, simple quartz, I kinda suspect that he or she wouldn’t get too far.)

And I think the idea of bragging about the number of parts inside a electronics device is tone-deaf on some fundamental level. Even the cheapest electronic gizmo, of course, is crammed full of far more, far tinier components than Motorola’s phone, in the form of transistors. But the whole point of digital technology is that you don’t need to worry about complexity. Or, for that matter, to pay for it. It’s just there, silently making your life a little better.

Also: If you’re contemplating splurging on a good mechanical watch, you can tell yourself you’ll hand it down to generations yet unborn, and it’ll become a treasured heirloom. (And it might: I also own and proudly wear a watch that my grandfather bought more than sixty years ago.) You’re not going to hand down the Aura to anyone. In fact, you’ll probably be fortunate if the cell networks in place a decade from now support it.

But maybe you’d like to convince me that this phone makes sense?


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