Archive for March 26th, 2008

The failure of Motorola

Disclaimer: The following is just my personal opinion on my personal blog, based on the experience I have with their products and strategies both as a user but also as a tech reviewer for the past few years.

As you know, today Motorola announced a split in two, while an insider’s email tells all about the terrible situation in the company that even lead to deaths/suicides. The insider cites the no-interest and no-knowledge of the execs to runs such a company as the reason for the failure.

I will have to clarify one point though, which I believe was a catalyst in Motorola’s current failure in the cellphone market. And that point is the way they treated their Linux phones. They missed a huge opportunity.

I was one of the first reviewers in US to try their EZX Qt-embedded Linux-based phones back in the day. These phones were mainly developed and manufactured in Asia, with minimum support from their US offices. MontaVista provided the (poorly supported afterwards) modified kernel. The first such phone was released in 2003 and it wasn’t half bad for the time.

Between 2004’s version of the OS, and the newest one’s released in 2007, the changes in the OS were MINIMUM. Having tried most of these EZX touchscreen models over the years, it was more that obvious that no real engineering went on behind the scenes, just some bug fixes and some small modifications here and there. It felt like “ok, we got a UI that works now, you are all fired, we only keep a few guys to maintain the thing”.

The problem was that Motorola-US didn’t care about these phones. They saw them as something that was done in Asia, for Asian markets only. They didn’t have the insight to think that “hey, we have a next-gen platform that works, why don’t we fully invest in it and go beyond Symbian v2 and v3, or UIQ, or Windows Mobile or Palm?”. Instead, they were short sighted, and they kept rehashing hardware designs running the old Moto OS, which looks like it was sprang out of the ’80s. Motorola’s basic phone UI (the one found on the non-Linux phones) was the worst I have ever encountered on mainstream phones.

What Motorola failed to realize was that the cellphone market changed their buying decisions from “hardware”, to a “software decision”. People want to run real, native, apps on their phones. End of story. After the initial boom of cellphone designs in the early ’00s, people don’t care anymore if the new RAZR is 1mm thinner than the previous model. Phone form factors and battery life have become good-enough in the last 4 years for almost all manufacturers, and so the interest and market differentiation has shifted towards software solutions instead.

Motorola would be alive and well today if they had actively maintained their EZX line, if they had innovated on it (their UI is still not as great you see), if they had open sourced everything after getting a QT license from Trolltech (no matter the cost) to allow free development of apps, release an SDK etc etc. I mean, think about it. Motorola had at least a TWO year head start in EZX development compared to Symbian v3, UIQ v3, and the iPhone. THEY could have been the big market players today after all these years maturing their touchscreen product.

Instead, they shunned their EZX phones, they completely missed the importance of an SDK (old readers of this blog will remember my rants about it), they started about 2-3 different Linux international mobile groups that have seen ZERO lines of code (this is equivalent to what we make fun here in the Silicon Valley, that is, someone wants to start writing an application and he first starts by creating the web site for it…). Then, they said something about joining the Android group, leaving all their partners of the other mobility Linux groups in peril.

Obviously, Motorola is a company that doesn’t know what it wants. That’s why they can never do anything right. I hope the company dies or bought and assimilated. They deserve nothing better. I just hope their employees find new jobs soon and get the hell out of there.