October 31, 2014

34 Weeks of OHA: #15

Company Name: Motorola Inc.

How the OHA site classifies them: Handset Manufacturer

What the OHA site says about them: Motorola is known around the world for innovation and leadership in wireless and broadband communications.

What they do: According to Wikipedia, The name Motorola was dreamed up when the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation started making car radios. It was supposed to represent “sound in motion”; ya know, “motor” and “ola”. Seventy-some-odd years on the company is still trying ot sell us its junk with marketing pushes based on nonsense words like KRAZR or MOTOMAJX(!?). The only evolution here has been the adoption of all-caps and bizarre spelling, like someone with a rare speech impediment is YELLING REALLY LOUDLY IN YOUR EAR, DAMMIT!

Motorola mostly builds communications stuff. Radios, walkie-talkies (I love walkie-talkies), home networking stuff, Bluetooth headsets. They also do some other electronic bits like digital video recorders, cameras, and stuff, but I’ve never eactually seen any of these other products and probably wouldn’t recommend that anyone spend money on them.

Motorola has done some great stuff in their time, without doubt. Ever heard of the PowerPC chip? How about the Motorola 68000 chip and its role in the microprocessor revolution? Iridium satellites (a failed concept, but still cool as hell)? Motorola has been around for 75+ years for a reason: they have a history of innovation in a broad spectrum of electronic and engineering domains.

Nowadays they’re mostly known for cell phones, most notably clamshell jobs with buttons on the side that cannot be locked, so if you place the handset in your bag or pocket and it’s bumping up against your keys or mace or whatever then eventually, inevitably, the ringer volume is going to get turned way up and the ringtone will get changed to some dude with a scheisse-video voice uttering the catchphrase “Hello Moto!” If this has happened to you, I share your pain. For the most part their phones are nothing special.

In 2005, howver, Motorola released its RAZR high-end device at a mid-market price point and took the handset world by storm. The RAZR was probably the first time that the concept of handset-as-fashion-statement really caught on, and for a while every metrosexual hipster in the world was rocking one. The success was not undeserved; RAZRs were perhaps the prettiest pocket-sized tech that had ever been released. They sold millions of the little buggers, and have kinda been living under that shadow ever since.

In November 2005, Motorola’s chief marketing officer Geoffrey Frost, the man many credited with the RAZR’s success, died suddenly. The bitter buzz from insiders has been that former CEO Ed Zander worked Frost to death, an opinion voiced in a recently-released letter sent to the company’s top execs by Numair Faraz, one of Frost’s advisers; the letter blasts the former and current CEOs for the company’s downfall. That fall has been graphic, with profits beginning to freefall starting final-quarter-2006 and the loss of 10% market share over 2007. Motorola was the second largest handset manufacturer in the world, but is now third and threatening fourth. Even the ROKR couldn’t save it. Throughout the disaster it has kept tossing out RAZR variants, which are uniformly uncool and uninnovative, in a pitiful bid to reclaim the magic.

Just late last month Motorola announced the spin-off of its hansdset division into a seperate entity.

What they bring to OHA and Android:

Depressive self-loathing? A sinking ship mentality? The LOOZR V45pos Mk XIII? With Motorola there’s nothing to be excited about. At this point they are simply to be pitied.

Android adoption can only be a step in the right direction, but I have no sense that Motorola has anything substantial to offer in return. Perhaps a leaner, meaner, handset-only Motorola spinnoff will be able to turn its fortunes around, but as yet there’s no real indication that this is the case. They’re kinda dead weight right now.

My advice for Motorola handsets? A new marketing direction, drop the KRZRKRZ crap and the MOTO bit. Don’t be afraid to play up the fact that you’re an American company, which is a rarity in the electronics biz, and try to give that angle a hip spin. Go for a large-touchscreen with number pad form factor with a mid-range price running Android. Focus on looks and mass-market functionality. And cheer up, ferchrissakes.