Eric Clapton: The Michael Jordan of Smartphones

We're entering the next era in mobile phone history. There are so many capable handsets available that it now makes sense to sell collector's editions, with little new to offer apart from celebrity endorsements.

Enter the T-Mobile myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition. Besides being a mouthful to say, the Fender phone lets Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT  ) subsidiary T-Mobile sell the myTouch for a $30 premium -- $180 instead of the usual $150.

It's still nearly the same hardware that T-Mobile has sold since the summer of 2009, running the same version of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android and with the same service plan options. The Fender comes with a nice sunburst finish reminiscent of Eric Clapton's favorite guitars, and there's a big Fender logo on the back. The phone does come with an improved music player application,  a built-in 3.5 mm headphone jack, and TV ads featuring Clapton and Buddy Guy. The included memory card has a few tunes on it and is a nice value for customers, and a couple of music apps have been preloaded from the Android store.

But you could already skin the regular myTouch with any photo you like, including a sunburst/Fender picture if that's what you wanted. Anybody could buy those music apps, and there's a 3.5 mm headphone dongle for the standard myTouch. The 16-gigabyte memory card is probably the nicest addition to the phone, but it doesn’t represent a huge cost to T-Mobile. Dealer upgrades are always expensive -- ask any car buyer.   

It's kind of like shoving Michael Jordan into a pair of high-tops and calling it a new shoe line. That has worked out nicely for Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) over the years, and many other retail brands besides, and I'm applauding T-Mobile and phone maker HTC for taking this step.

It's a grown-up marketing approach that indicates a maturing industry. Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) were cute with their Droid ads, but they don't feature Lady Gaga or Robert DeNiro. It's been years since Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) tapped rock legends U2 for its iPod/iTunes ads. Research In Motion recently borrowed the band for itself, but not to promote a particular product.

The closest thing I've seen to a celebrity endorsement of modern-era phones is the Transformers edition of the LG Versa -- but even then, the phone was slathered in robots, rather than Megan Fox or Shia LeBouf imagery. No, Luke Wilson doesn't count -- he's there to bash Verizon and promote AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , and never pushes any particular phone. Same thing with Ms. Zeta-Jones. She's a service shill and nothing more.

So this is a big deal. But what does it all mean? Vote below and then leave a comment if you’ve got something else on your mind.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He wants a Fender guitar, not a Fender phone. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation, and Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On January 15, 2010, at 10:21 PM, Clint35 wrote:

    I think the company is basically saying "Consumers are idiots. They'll pay extra for anything that has anything to do with a celebrity."

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2010, at 3:29 PM, Fool wrote:

    Dwane Wade had a tmobile sidekick out in 2007-08

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