Why this latest attempt to resurrect the Commodore brand will probably flop

The Commodore brand is back again, this time on an Android smartphone. For a premium price, you get an Android 5.0 phone with the Commodore logo on it, preloaded with VICE and an Amiga emulator, which, between the two of them, emulate just about everything Commodore ever made, except, perhaps, the products that can be emulated with the Android calculator app.

But I don’t expect this attempt to be any more successful than earlier efforts to resurrect the brand.

Commodore PET
Commodore is only iconic to people of a certain age anymore.

The reason is pretty simple. Commodore sold more than 30 million computers from 1977 to 1994. The problem with that is 1994 was 21 years ago, and while 30 million computers was a huge number back then, it’s not a huge number now. Today, if Dell or Lenovo sell half that many computers in a mere three months, it’s not just a bad quarter, it’s a sign of impending doom.

Translation: If every Commodore fan who’s still alive buys one of these, it’s enough for the manufacturer to have a bad six months.

And the phone costs $300 or $365, based on configuration. It’s more expensive than a comparable Motorola phone but not much more capable. That’s a problem–ye olde Commodore was successful because it delivered capable products for a lot less than its competitors, and as time eroded ye olde Commodore’s price advantage, ye olde Commodore started losing money and eventually went out of business. It didn’t matter that the Amiga was demonstrably superior in every possible way to anything else available in 1991–the only people willing to pay a premium price for it were the people who already had one and were upgrading. Not that I have strong opinions on that matter or an Amiga bumper sticker on my car or anything.

Not everyone knows this, but Apple nearly went out of business in the mid 1980s and again in the mid-late 1990s. Both times, Apple was struggling to expand its market share enough to stay profitable in the face of competitors dramatically undercutting its prices, much like Commodore was. Apple figured out how to do it. Commodore never did.

So I think a few thousand people who are due for a new phone will pony up for one of these so they can carry around something that says “Commodore” on it for a couple of years, but the true spirit of Commodore is to continue to run Commodore emulators on whatever other devices they already own, or on the real thing they still have kicking around in the basement.

That’s a fantastic recipe for nostalgia, but not for a successful commercial enterprise.

Resurrecting dead brands isn’t always a bad idea. Packard Bell is an example of one that had some success for a while. But that seems to be an exception, not the rule.

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