I'm sure the average buyer walking into a phone shop considers a number of factors when deciding which device to buy. They might like the look of it, or its colour. Perhaps they favour one manufacturer over another. Or maybe there's just an attractive offer with a good price.
But what about the phone's name? I know it might seem mildly irrelevant, but imagine being a customer faced by an exhaustive selection of mobile phones and having to pick one out by name and ask the sales staff a question about it. How easy would you find it to repeat the name of the manufacturer followed by some random collection of letters and numbers? Are you likely to remember the model name after you've left the shop?
Nokia's range of phones is differentiated by model numbers usually four digits long (although the E, N and X series are shorter). This approach has some advantages for the average buyer, who may not know all the details and specifications of a particular phone. They can use the model number to understand how products compare. Take the Nokia 5230 and 5800, for example, both variants in the XpressMusic range. The 5800 was released as Nokia's flagship music device last year. The 5230, which came out a just a couple of months ago and sports a lower number, is a cheaper alternative with lower specs.
The same principle could be applied to the current range of Sony Ericsson Walkman models, like the W395, W595 and W995; the higher-numbered models have better hardware.
However that's not to say that model numbers always make sense. Take a look, for example, at Samsung's Genio handsets in the UK prepaid market. The Genio Touch is the S3650, but the Genio Qwerty is the B3210 (and outside the UK, the Genio range is referred to as the Corby). Thankfully, most buyers will refer to the model name in these cases. Indeed, shops tend not to display Samsung model numbers when there's already a recognisable name.
When you have a series name like the Corby, it's easy to distinguish models by using simple words like "touch" and "qwerty" to explain differences. What's more, you can use names to market successive models from the same series. For example, the Samsung Tocco, followed by the Tocco Lite and then Tocco Ultra show a clear progression. Even HTC's Hero and Legend can be made to fit this pattern. I predict we'll see more use of qualifiers like "touch" and "mini" this year.
Research In Motion, whose name hardly trips off the tongue, chose "BlackBerry" for its range of devices, and for many people the word is now synonymous with qwerty e-mail phones. The company's also introduced memorable names for many of its recent products, such as Bold, Storm and Pearl, and qualified different models with logical numbering schemes. For example, the Bold 9700 is a better-specified product than the Bold 9000.
Of course, a good phone doesn't need a catchy name. Nokia's E71, which has been hugely popular among business users and consumers, is a classic example. Another is the Samsung B3410, a popular prepaid device (although oddly enough I have seen this labelled as the Black Widow in Carphone Warehouse, and outside the UK it's known as the Corby Plus).
Two new releases this quarter by Acer and Samsung could provide an insight into how model names affect sales. Acer will release the Liquid e, an identical product to the original Liquid, except that the Android operating system has been upgraded from version 1.6 to version 2.1. Samsung will launch the I5700 Galaxy Spica, again an identical product to its predecessor but with an upgrade from Android 1.5 to 2.1. Acer has changed the model name (slightly) but Samsung has not. Given that both phones have similar specifications and designs, it will be interesting to see how each is received.