Is Vertu, the world’s most expensive phone brand that sold five-figure handsets and filed for bankruptcy, back in business?

Vertu

It’s been a month since the French brand posted on its Instagram page. What’s next?

It’s proven to be as irrelevant as a pager and as useful as a paperweight as tech giants like Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and Apple release one smartphone after another, we can’t really help but reminisce: where did Vertu, the Rolls-Royce of mobile phones go wrong, and more importantly, is it back in business?

Let’s tackle one thing at a time.

What went wrong? For those who don’t know the background, here’s the TL;DR (that’s ‘too long; didn’t read’) version.

In 2012, Nokia sold Vertu, while retaining 10 per cent of Vertu’s shares. Now, Nokia’s official response was to let Vertu stand on its own, but we know that’s just a politically correct way of saying that it was time to cut losses. Vertu made the immediate switch and jumped onto the Android platform, which many felt was a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, that was the only step taken.

Just five years later, the company filed for bankruptcy.

But others still saw value in the brand name and what it stood for. In 2018, Vertu resurfaced as a French-owned, Paris-based company, producing a phone aimed for… you guessed it, the Chinese market.

Called Aster P, prices started from US$4,200 (S$6,000) for a basic model, and went up to US$14,120 (S$20,000). The five-figure price tag made frontline news, but the product barely generated anything beyond the value of press coverage.

While it was made using titanium and sapphire glass, Aster P wasn’t immune to shots fired by tech reporters. It ran on a midrange Android processor that was released the year before, came with just 128 GB of storage and 1080p resolution. Older smartphones were fitted with more impressive technology. The ‘gull-wing’ compartments for SIM and SD cards, one of the phone’s selling points, failed to even catch the attention of a five-year-old whose best friend was an old sock.

Vertu was clearly mistaken if it thought the mainland Chinese would suffer fools gladly. With the time it took to scramble and get its act together, the Chinese already had brands like Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi and even Vivo producing top-notch smartphones.

Perhaps Vertu was banking on its branding, and I can’t help but think, what if Leica had partnered Vertu, instead of Huawei? Could that have potentially saved Vertu from an excruciating death?

But, enough bad press.

 

Fast forward to 20 December 2019. Vertu revived its Twitter account, with a short but straightforward message. Perhaps the copy was written by an intern (or a hacker, given the complete lack of punctuation and grammatical coherence), but that’s another issue altogether.

On that same day, it released two videos on Instagram, one of which hinted at a new phone: Vertu Black Whale. Now, like most ‘preview’ videos by luxury brand, the video remains cryptic, relying on visuals to pique your interest. It also used just one adjective to describe its upcoming release: “untraceable”.

Given that the most expensive phone on the market costs S$3,000, the idea of a five-figure Vertu doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore. Perhaps Vertu was way ahead of its time (I’m clearly being sarcastic). As I’ve yet to receive any updates from its French headquarters, I’ve come up with a list of functions I wish Black Whale would be equipped with. If Vertu actually wants the rest of the world to sit up and take notice, it has to blow our socks off. And I’m here to help.

Up-to-date features and OS

This sounds like a given, but we’re not taking any chances given its last gaffe. This includes facial recognition, top-of-the-line camera and audio specifications, have a bezel-less, edge-to-edge screen and expandable memory. Taking things a tad further, it could even act as a drone, using voice command to hover, find the best lighting and angles for photos.

Superb battery life

Once again, setting the bar low. It would be great if we could go back to the good old Nokia days where we charged our phones once every three days. And please don’t let the phone heat up while it’s in use. Or perhaps tap on the use of solar power?

A screen that won’t actually crack (or smudge)

A sapphire crystal for a screen sounds impressive, but honestly, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. How many times have you dropped your current phone? A five-figure phone unfortunately can’t defy the laws of gravity (yet). While the screen may be tough to scratch, it will shatter like glass does if you drop it. Plus, the odds of you wearing a diamond ring or two is pretty high. Which means, it probably won’t take a day before your precious ring scratches the screen of your equally precious phone.

Catalogues to the latest luxury drops

You won’t just score the latest runway invites, you’ll even get a chance to view the pieces before the show. Sounds slightly impossible, but hey, if Vertu’s selling point is its 24/7 concierge, surely this is a valid request. Like what you see? Purchase it on the spot and have it delivered to your doorstep within 24 hours.

Invites to the world’s most glamorous events

It’s pretty much the same as the above. Instead of having to put in a request through your concierge, they’ll take the initiative and score you an invite anyway. Sometimes, it’s just about having the option to turn invites down.

Private satellite connection

And this should be available throughout the world. Throw in local cell service wherever you are in the world, without the need to pay for data roaming. Oh, and GPS.

Release a scent like no other

What does luxury smell like? Who’s to know? But I imagine it should be a scent so subtle yet intoxicating, only the well-heeled will turn heads when you’ve entered a room. I’ll let you know when Vertu offers me the Black Whale to review.

End-to-end encryption

Regardless of app you’re using – whether it’s a voice, video or text chat, and file transfers – it should be fully encrypted. Take a leaf out of Blackphone’s book or continue the partner with Silent Circle, perhaps? Oh, and scan for spam calls and messages, and actively block and report it.

A consolidation of the world’s streaming platforms into one app

Do we really need separate apps for this? No. And while almost everyone in the world would welcome this feature, it will only be offered to those who can actually afford a Vertu. Hello, capitalism.

Double as a self-protection device

How about a self-defence device? Press a certain button five times ­in rapid-fire succession to activate the taser. While it’s illegal in certain countries, we’ll add a layer of complexity to deter itchy fingers. Pressing said button will automatically send a signal to a security company, which will send help, pronto.

Shock-proof and waterproof to a depth of 100m

I don’t think any explanation is needed here. Adrenaline junkies, this one’s for you.

You’d have noticed I left out Vertu’s signature one-touch concierge button. While the service was highly lauded when it was first launched – you’ve to remember the internet of today wasn’t what it was in 2001 – there no longer is a niche for it, given that if your personal assistant isn’t able to do it for you, concierge services by other brands will.

Now, to just be patient and await its release.

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