Motorola president says Apple charges outrageous prices

Technically Incorrect: In a response to a hardly veiled criticism of its phones by Apple's head of design Jony Ive, Motorola President Rick Osterloh suggests Apple's a bit of a gouger.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Bigger than outrageous too? Apple screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It doesn't matter whether it's houses or companies -- people love to talk about how much they're worth.

But there is only ever one true answer: whatever someone is prepared to pay for it.

This sometimes sad fact reminds me of its presence as I hear of criticism of Apple from Motorola President Rick Osterloh.

He was speaking to the BBC and happened to mention that he thought Apple charged "outrageous prices." It's unlikely that this was an entirely spontaneous remark.

In a New Yorker profile published earlier this week, Apple's head of design, Jony Ive, had mentioned one competitor (not by name, that wouldn't be British.). However, his words were: "Their value proposition was: 'Make it whatever you want. You can choose whatever color you want.'"

It didn't take too colorful a mind to leap to the idea that he was discussing MotoMaker. This is Motorola's attempt to allow customers to personalize their devices.

Ive described this notion, as kindly as he could. He called it "abdicating your responsibility as a designer."

Osterloh clearly doesn't think this cricket. He told the BBC: "Our belief is that the end user should be directly involved in the process of designing products."

I worry about this. I'm not sure I could offer much of a contribution toward the design of, say, my microwave. Still, Osterloh believes such accessibility will not only distinguish his brand, but be a fundamental part of its success in the long run.

Removing his emotional flick-knife from its sheath, he tossed it Ive's way: "We do see a real dichotomy in this marketplace, where you've got people like Apple making so much money and charging such outrageous prices. We think that's not the future."

He believes that a cell phone "shouldn't be an expensive luxury." His timing is, of course, exquisite as rumors swirl that Apple's most exalted type of watch -- the gloriously named Apple Watch Edition -- might, as Apple watcher John Gruber noted, generate $5 billion of revenue per quarter. Just from this one golden version.

There are caveats in this calculation, of course. But Apple has always had an aura of premium pride around its person. The one time when some felt it compromised a touch -- the "unashamedly plastic" iPhone 5C -- it wasn't perhaps its finest success.

It's easy to suggest Apple is a gouger. But if there are fools, it is always us. We're the ones who are prepared to pay. We're the ones who show off our phones by placing them on bars, just as surely as we'll show off our watches by wearing shorter sleeves. We seem to think the price we pay is worth it. We'll even line up in the freezing cold to be the first to buy one. (When I say "we," I mean of course "you.") Now that's outrageous.

There might come a time when, as with many products, we look at the Apple offering and decide it's a monstrous ripoff.

Why, we used to think newspapers were worth the money and now look at us. We used to think books were worth $30 and then we went up the Amazon. We used to think designer clothes were always worth fortunes until Mr. H and Mr. M offered us passable versions at a fraction of the price.

Apple might overplay its aces of taste, sophistication and simplicity. It may well be that a competitor will find a completely new approach and Apple will suddenly seem like one of those couture brands that has lost its haute.

It's incumbent on Motorola to forge ahead and prove that -- being like Nike, perhaps -- there is a market in mass customization.

There again, I look at what people do with their iPhones sometimes and I am forced to turn to drink. They pay a substantial, even outrageous sum for a very pretty phone and then they buy some bile-inducing pink and turquoise case to wrap it in.

Putting your faith in the taste of the people can be a tricky business.