Have you noticed all the different brand names used in smartphones today? HTC smartphone brands include Sensation, Explorer, Rhyme and Titan. Samsung smartphone brands include Galaxy Captivate, Fascinate, Focus, Nexus, Epic, Indulge and Acclaim. Motorola smartphone brands include Attrix, RAZR, Photon, Bionic, Electrify and Triumph. MetroPCS smartphone brands include Wildfire, Presto, Admire and Esteem. BlackBerry smartphone brands include Curve, Bold, Torch, Style and Pearl. These are just examples. There are many more out there.

It seems like every new smartphone or tablet model that comes to market has a different name. What’s the customer to do? How can consumers possibly keep them straight or know the differences from one brand name to another? I know I can’t, and I work in the industry!

To make matters worse, Verizon Wireless has adopted DROID as a category brand name that is used to describe any smartphone that incorporates the Android operating system. Verizon Wireless then tacks on an additional brand name to DROID to define the actual model, e.g. DROID RAZR, DROID Bionic or DROID Charge, DROID X2 and DROID Incredible. So don’t try going into an AT&T store and ask for a DROID smartphone.

The reason that smartphone manufacturers create these emotionally descriptive names for most every model is to differentiate one model from another. In their quest to create appeal for their latest smartphone, smartphone manufacturers are also confusing the prospective buyer because there are so many models available. Plus, the length of time from the introduction of one model to another is less now than a few years ago, so the frequency of new model names coming to market is increasing.

Smartphone manufacturers need to take a lesson from the automobile industry and other consumer goods companies. For example, Ford has their basic brands such as Fusion, Edge, Focus, F-150 and Explorer. Each name stands for a definitive class of car with a focused target market. These brands stay constant from one year to the next. Then, the auto manufacturers create various sub-brands to these basic models to denote specific feature sets. If I go into a Ford dealer and ask to see an Edge, they might have two or three different models like SEL or XT. But Edge represents an SUV that is larger than a car but smaller than a full-sized SUV and gets better gas mileage.

The smartphone manufacturers need to create a core name that stands for the class of smartphone and then stay with that name from one model to the next. For example, Samsung is moving in that direction by using the brand name Galaxy for smartphones and then further sub-brands for the different variances and features. Recently, Samsung introduced their Galaxy Note, a new class of 7-inch tablets that uses Android but has pen-enhanced hardware and software that assist the user in note taking.

Apple has done an excellent job with creating lasting mobile brands. The iPhone, iPod and iPad are all brands assigned to a definitive product class, and Apple uses these major brands for multiple years. They differentiate by adding simple monikers such as iPhone 4S or iPad 2 to describe the different generations.

The one exception is the iPad touch. This device looks more like a thin iPhone but doesn’t incorporate cellular radios. We believe this class of device would be better called iTouch or some other similar “i” brand name. And then they could add cellular data to this class to provide “usage everywhere” rather than only when the customer has access to Wi-Fi.

As the smartphone market matures, smartphone manufacturers of these wonderful devices will realize that they should focus on brands for major device classes and then add sub-brands so that the customer will not be confused and can more easily understand the different kinds of smartphones. This will allow the consumer to focus on the device class that is most appropriate and then “drill down” on the model that makes the most sense for him/her.

We’re currently going through turbulent times in the economy, just as we’re going through turbulent times in branding of smartphones. Hopefully, both the economy and branding of smartphones will become less turbulent in the next few years.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is principal analyst/Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC, and this piece is reproduced with his permission. Contact him at gerry.purdy@mobiletrax.com.

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