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Orange is the new black orange.

15/6/08

Fashion rotates, I’m sure I saw leg warmers in on a girl in Oxford Street last week. I’ve seen an historical documentary which featured those – a film called ‘Fame’.

Some history is more recent. In 1994 we saw the launch of Orange, not only did they have a strange name; they did odd things. Faulty, lost or stolen phones replaced in three hours, a card which came with the phone that you could write numbers on, then post back to Orange and have the numbers put in your phone book for you, free calls to free numbers and some things we’d never seen before like billing by the second, bundles and (free) SMS, something we now call text messaging. They even had a service where an operator would take a message and send it by SMS to you. Cool, different and innovative. Things got better with Orange Value Promise, Wildfire (the bets thing on mobile phones ever) and Everyphone.

But Orange got big, corporate, dull, hard nosed and French. Orange was no longer Orange, Virgin was. Virgin was the new Orange, clever billing, cool ‘Xtras’ and proper service.

In December the man who built Virgin joined Orange to head up the UK. Tom Alexander was at Cellnet when Virgin knocked on Cellnet’s door and proposed a Virtual Network. Cellnet in a typical ex-BT way almost said yes, held lots and lots of meetings about it and then decided not to jump into bed with Virgin.

So Virgin popped up to Borehamwood and came to an arrangement with One 2 One. But the men at Virgin liked the cut of the jib of the man at Cellnet and so brought him on board to run Virgin Mobile.

Mr. Alexander has a hobby. Google him and you’ll find that he races Aston Martins. Very big, very expensive ones. Expensive by Aston Martin standards is like saying flying first class is cheap, I’ll take my own jet.

He didn’t do badly by getting the top job at Virgin, nor by it floating.

So I rather expect that it wasn’t the need to meet the mortgage or pay the paper bill that led him to take the job at Orange. It’s clear why Orange wanted him – the best person in the world to revive their fortunes but why would he be interested in something that’s on the slide, clearly hard work and has a reputation for being misunderstood by the foreign owners? I can only think that he laid down some rules before he started: He could pick his own team and do it his way.

That’s already started. Three of the senior people from Virgin Mobile now have jobs at Orange. Just watch as your LinkedIn contacts at Orange update their profiles: shiny new descriptions, a photo and few headhunters to the contact list.

It’s just the shake-up that Orange needs, and maybe if he gets it right the man who has worked at or with Virgin, O2, T-Mobile and Orange will become the man the French need to head their global battle against Vodafone. I’m not sure that killing “The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Orange” is the right thing to do for two reasons. The first is that it’s served the company so well it’s passed into common usage, but the best reason is that it annoys the French. The line “The Future’s Bright” was associated with the pre-war socialist movement in France. It would have been far better to have killed the stupid animal tariffs which are the dumbest thing Orange has done since the ‘Hard Nosed businessman’.

Expect to see a new innovative Orange, not far removed from the very old one.

The Telegraph drew comparisons been Tom Alexander and Sir Richard Branson, but actually Tom Alexander has much bigger shoes to fill – those of Hans Snook, the man who made Orange,  Orange. And I think he can do it. After that.

Some things won’t revert, back in 1994 there were only two phones, the Nokia Orange and the Orange mr1 from Motorola. Something which prompted my friend Gary to say “Why are Orange phones black when an aeroplane’s black-box flight recorder is Orange?”. Hmm, maybe some things are not worth brining back from the past: like Gary’s jokes and leg warmers.




Links

The 2008 market does look weaker than 2007, but it’s TI which is feeling it worst with Motorola decamping to Qualcomm and both Nokia and Samsung going Infineon.

Those with exceptionally long memories will think of the game Splat! When they learn that Glu has bought Superscape.

The Motorola purchase of Symbol bears fruit with a $3000 new rugged device.

Spice is one of the biggest players in India (that means they have a good slice of the 10% of the market that isn’t Nokia). They have an interesting portfolio of dual mode CDMA/GSM and dual SIM GSM phones as well as a super cheap phone without a screen.  Now they are producing a Braille device.

Motorola goes to the movies. I guess most of the people there are hiring The Great Escape.

Following on from the UK success of Blyk, the Germans are trying to Squeeze out something equally cool for cats.

Cool new eyewear from Vuzix, means you can watch TV from your N95 without squinting.

And if you wear Ableplanet’s better-than-Bose noise canceling headphones you’ll be completely covered.

 

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