Motorola's Razr flip phone is poised to make a comeback, with a flexible, foldable plastic screen making it all possible.
Chicago-based Motorola expected to begin taking pre-orders Dec. 26 — priced at an expected $1,500 — but delayed the launch because of what it says was high demand.
The Chicago connection is deeper than the name. Motorola is the company that developed the first cellphone, making the first commercial call from Soldier Field.
"Ninety percent of the work was done in Chicago, which includes labs and in-house design," Motorola spokeswoman Sarah Cooney says of the new phone.
In its heyday, Motorola's phone unit employed tens of thousands in Chicago and had a supply base for plastics molding and mold making that were key parts of a manufacturing hub in the region. Now it has just a few hundred employees (parent Lenovo won't disclose the exact number), including the engineering team that worked on the latest Razr.
The R&D involved dates back to 2012 and a skunkworks project in Libertyville, Ill., where Moto's mobile unit was based before it was bought by Google, which later sold it to Lenovo.
"Everyone knew that 5G would be coming, which would enable things like videoconferencing, gaming, [augmented reality] and [virtual reality]," said Iqbal Arshad, who was head of engineering and global product development until 2016. "We knew the future of computing was mobile."
But that meant an even bigger screen.
"The practicality of the glass screen is limited — there's a limit on the size of what's pocketable," says Arshad, who is a visiting scholar at Northwestern University's Institute for Bioelectronics and an industry consultant.