DUBAI // A new smartphone went on sale yesterday at a price that could buy a medium-sized car.
The top-of-the-range version of the Vertu Ti (pronounced tee-eye), with its titanium and gold case, will set you back an eye-popping Dh82,500 – more than the cost of a new Nissan Altima or Mitsubishi Galant.
If you think that is too much to spend on a smartphone then the basic titanium model costs just Dh39,500. Two other models – one with a special black finish costing Dh47,500 and another with alligator leather at Dh52,500 – will be available shortly.
The Ti is seen as a game-changer for UK-based Vertu. It is the first new model to be launched since the company was bought last year from Nokia by the investment firm EQT, and is the first Vertu phone to run on Google’s Android operating system. The audio system was developed jointly with Danish firm Bang & Olufsen.
But what makes a mobile phone worth so much money? Vertu’s president, Perry Oosting, who is visiting Dubai for the launch, says it is the Ti’s combination of durable materials and handcrafted workmanship.
“It has the biggest sapphire screen ever made in terms of a mobile phone, the sapphire glass takes 20 days to make,” he said.
“It is not engineered for mass manufacture.
“Each device is made with titanium, ceramic and Northern European leathers and is hand-crafted by one specialist who then signs it, so it is unique.”
Vertu has long been known for its Concierge service, which enables users to book restaurants, buy gifts and obtain a host of other services by calling a network of “lifestyle managers”. This service has been enhanced by the addition of a live chat facility and joined by others, all of which are accessed by pressing a ruby-encrusted key on the side of the phone. Vertu Life, for example, determines your location and provides recommendations for restaurants and other services in the nearest city.
“Going back to the price, these services are a pure cost to us, we don’t take any revenue from them,” said Mr Oosting. “We took the decision that services should make your life better, and we should give you service that is not with another objective of revenue.”
Vertus’s decision to adopt Google’s operating system means the Ti is probably the world’s most expensive commecially available Android-powered phone. The switch – earlier models used Symbian – gives buyers access to the vast number of apps that run on Android.
Vertu phones have never been seen as the most-cutting edge products in terms of technology. There has been some criticism that, though the Ti is a brand new, top-end handset, it runs on an older version of Android, 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, rather than the latest release, 4.1, or Jelly Bean. Mr Oosting dismissed these concerns.
“We will be on 4.1 in a few months because it’s over-the-air upgradeable, our chip set and our hardware are configured so you can upgrade to Jelly Bean. So that is not an issue.
“We did this programme in a relatively short time and 4.0 is very mature, therefore we chose 4.0. We wanted to make sure as this is our first Android device, that the experience is mature.”
The popularity of Vertu phones among well-heeled consumers in the region was evident from last year’s sales figures.
“We grew globally 4 per cent, but in this region it was double-digit,” added Mr Oosting. “So this was one of the most prosperous regions in terms of growth, it’s a very healthy market.”
Even at Dh82,500 the Ti is not the world’s most expensive phone. In fact, it’s not even in the Top 10. For the man or woman who has everything, the ideal gift would be the iPhone Diamond Rose, by the English luxury goods designer Stuart Hughes.
Encrusted with 53 diamonds weighing 100 carats and with a 7.4-carat pink diamond as the home button, it costs US$8 million (Dh30m). A data plan is extra.