SINGAPORE--Four years after LG Electronics and Prada began their cross-industry collaboration combining technology and luxury goods, mobile phones today remain the focal product of their partnership.
Matteo Sessa Vitali, vice president and licensing director at Prada, noted that a mobile phone is very much a personal accessory, with many similarities as the other products offered by the luxury goods company. "You carry it with you and it tells something about you," Vitali told ZDNet Asia in an interview.
The ability to add LG's technology in Prada's portfolio gives "a lot of value" to the company's product, he said.
Chang Ma, vice president of marketing strategy at LG Electronics' mobile communications division, said the partnership with Prada provides LG much-needed insight to the luxury goods market.
Chang said, during the interview, that Prada's strong understanding of this market and its openness to innovation encouraged LG to introduce luxury goods--an initiative it would not have undertaken alone, due to the company's limited knowledge of the market segment.
He noted that the first Prada phone the partners collaborated on was a "full" touch-screen-enabled phone, launched some four months before Apple introduced the iPhone.
The executives were in town Thursday for the local launch of LG's latest edition of the Prada phone.
Preserving the original touch-screen design of its predecessor, the new LG-KF900 features a QWERTY keyboard that slides out. Other upgrades include 3G support and HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps, and a 5-megapixel camera.
According to Vitali, the two companies collaborated on every aspect of the phone's development--from design to functions to marketing.
"It's not a product branding of an existing LG product. We really wanted to create something new with contribution from both companies. This is different from other products, which perhaps take a more 'cosmetic' approach," he said.
Chang added: "It's very different from most collaboration efforts where manufacturers (only participate in) licensing arrangements."
From personal experience
While Vitali expects the phones to attract existing Prada customers looking for something new, he said the mobile devices will also appeal to those who want a "good combination" of strong technology and style.
"(For instance), the accessory we are presenting with this phone--the Prada Link--is very simple, but at the same time, very new and innovative," he said. "I think it is something that will attract interest in this product."
Prada Link, sold separately as an accessory to the phone, is a Bluetooth-enabled digital timepiece that can remotely monitor phone calls as well as read SMS messages. Because it supports Bluetooth, the device allows users to screen calls and check text messages without removing the phone from their bag or pocket.
According to Vitali, this gadget was a result of discussions both companies had on ways to improve their product.
"So we came up with a discussion about consumer needs based on our own daily experiences," he said. Someone at a meeting, for example, will not want to keep checking the mobile phone each time it rings.
Asked why the companies chose to release a luxury handset amid falling global demand for consumer electronics due to the current economic slowdown, Vitali said: "This phone is a natural evolution from the first release, taking the best of what we have in terms of design and encompassing new features and innovation.
"We realize at the moment it's not a product for everyone but...we think there is still a kind of consumer that is looking for something like this."
Chang added: "The recession makes consumers more cautious about spending their money, but if the reason to buy and pay for the product is good enough, there will be consumers who still look for it."
According to Vitali, over 1 million units of the first Prada phone were sold worldwide. "It appears, now, many of those customers are buying the second Prada phone," he said. "We think this is a very good indication that the phone is not just perceived as marketing (hype), but that there are people who are satisfied with the first product."
Sol E. Solomon of ZDNet Asia reported from Singapore.