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Monday, 17 August 2015 13:32

Remember the great brand? Motorola phones

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Time was when Motorola was synonymous with two-way radios and walkie-talkies used by military, police and emergency services. In fact, its heritage dates back to the 1930s.

Later it became synonymous with cellular infrastructure, NASA space flight radios, pagers, modems, and made the highly advanced (for its time) MC6800 RISC central processor unit (later called Power PC) found on the Apple Mac, Commodore, Atari, Sun, and some IBM and HP computers.

Its first mobile phone ‘brick’ was in 1973, and at its peak – 2004 to 2007 - it sold 130 million Motorola RAZR flip mobile phones – still the record for the most sales of a single model - taking it to the number two slot in 2005 behind Nokia. It was cool to own one, celebrities used them, and it became a regular prop in movies and TV.

Time was that Motorola and Nokia were synonymous with the emerging mobile phone revolution.

But the market changed in 2007 with Apple’s launch of the 1st generation iPhone which essentially captured the imagination and wallets of the pubic as it reinvented the mobile phone as a smartphone.

Motorola responded with its flip RAZR2 series – a Linux based phone - but it could not compete with the iPhone. Simply it lacked the features - touch screen, 3G, apps and internet connectivity.

In 2011 Motorola resurrected the RAZR brand as a ‘Droid’, an Android smartphone – but it was perhaps too late as Samsung and LG had beat it past the post with Android based smartphones that were competitive, feature for feature, with the iPhone.

On the whole the Droid and its successors – were good products but manufacturing issues made quality variable and frankly U.S. thinking made the company less agile in a market now dominated by two Korean companies that would do almost anything to dominate – out spend, out market, and out manoeuvrer. Motorola’s fate as a smartphone maker was sealed.

In January 2011, it split into two separate companies – Motorola Mobility (Red bat wing logo) and Motorola Solutions (Blue bat wing logo). There is no doubt that this was a survival move and within months Google – flush with cash – paid U$12.5 billion dollars for it although it took over a year – May 2012 – to complete the deal.

Being early to the mobility space Motorola held many relevant mobile patents and analysts suggest that is where its real value lay.

Just over two years later – October 2014 – Lenovo emerged as the buyer at the bargain basement price of US$2.91 billion on very generous terms from Google including taking US$750 million in Lenovo shares and the rest as a three year promissory note.

Google maintains ownership of the vast majority of the Motorola Mobility patent portfolio, including active patent applications and invention disclosures. Lenovo received a license to use this portfolio and other intellectual property.

So to today

As the information on Monday’s (17 August 2015) release of new 4th generation Moto X,  Moto X Play, and Moto G, smartphones is under embargo until tomorrow (Tuesday) I will not comment on those devices just yet – what I can do it comment on Motorola and its future.

According to IDC in Q1, 2015 Android had 78% of the market share, iOS 18.3%, Windows 2.7%, and Blackberry .3%.

Samsung dominates by virtue of having models in four market segments

  • Flagship – Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, Edge+, Note 5 at around $1000
  • Mid-market – almost as fully featured as flagship but at a $500+ price
  • Mass Market – phones ranging from $250
  • El-cheapo – phones under $250 – typically under $100

Lenovo – has come from relative obscurity. It first showed up in Q2, 2012 with a 3.1% market share – exclusively from its own branded sales in China. Since mid-2014 with the Motorola 3rd generation phones it has achieved around 5.6% in Q1 and Q2, 2015.

If you know Lenovo, it is a company with great ambitions. It usual plays the long game as evidenced by the purchase of IBM’s PC business in 2005, and its Intel server business in 2014.

It now designs, develops, manufactures and sells personal computers, tablet computers, smartphones, workstations, servers, electronic storage devices, IT management software, and smart televisions in over 60 countries. It is the world's largest personal computer vendor – much to HP’s chagrin.

It recently laid off 3200 workers – largely as a restructure of Motorola’s acquisition. iTWire has an article here.

It has also been embroiled in some crapware scandals with Lenovo perhaps overstepping its boundaries (as young and highly aggressive companies are wont to do) and had installed Superfish adware (to increase revenue) and recently the Lenovo Service Engine has been classified as a rootkit capable of being used by hackers to take over PCs.

Back to Motorola smartphones

There are some interesting philosophies at the company.

First is that Android will be left alone – Motorola will give you a 100% pure Android experience. This Is undoubtedly due to Google’s influence as a shareholder but it also makes really good sense. It’s Lollipop based smartphones will have apps to provide the ‘Motorola experience’ meaning it and Google can update the operating system at will – yea!!!

On this point alone I give it 10 points because from hereon in their 4th generation phones will not suffer fragmentation or delays from carriers in updating and patching.

Next (at least in Australia) Motorola has been generally available as an outright purchase. Vodafone will continue to offer its new handsets as well as via retail channels. Motorola was a bit coy about retail stockists – could be because of the embargo.

And finally Motorola intends to enhance the relationship you have with your smartphone by more intuitive hardware/apps and things like turbo charging.

In all it is a very different company to the Motorola of even a year ago. I wish it well.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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