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.


NA wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 5:22 PM PST:

Here is EZX derived SDK/Linux platform that is currently still worked on. 🙂

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Eugenia wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 5:27 PM PST:

I know about it. And I believe that it will never be released now that the company is in such a condition (plus, they are already overdue to release it, plus, there was only a single phone that has this non-touchscreen OS in it that’s compatible with Motomagx, and was a commercial failure). This is not what it should have been. Too little, too incompatible with EZX, too late. Even the non-touchscreen non-EZX ROKR E2 has an early version of this OS, that Motomagx is not compatible with, making that SDK (if it will be ever released) useless. Motorola never took SDKs seriously, neither they took seriously either of their two Linux platforms (the EZX touchscreen one, and the non-touschreen one). SDKs are not in the company’s culture, they are hardware people, while they are governed by people who have no clue about either software or hardware.

NA wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 5:46 PM PST:

more than a single phone RZR2 V8, Z6, E8, U9. we will see what decisions the top makes :).

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Eugenia wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 5:52 PM PST:

These phones are not serious in my opinion. The U9? Come on. We are not all 16 year olds anymore. Not serious enough to compete with Windows Mobile or the iPhone or Symbian S60. It is not a next-gen fool proof platform that the company can depend on. It’s simply an old-looking and old-designed UI platform in new clothes. Nothing more.

I maintain that Motorola should have fully embrace and innovate on top of their EZX touchscreen line, simply because it was there, and it was working, and there was a lot of room for improvement and innovation. Plus, they had a major headstart. And instead, they let it slip, forking EZX into this non-touchscreen laughable interface, which is not as good not even as Symbian S60 v2, let along v3.1. You probably know that these phones require 12 to 14 clicks (depending on the model) to turn on/off Bluetooth. Ridiculous. 😀

NA wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 6:04 PM PST:

are u sure it takes 14 steps last time I tried it was 3 or 6 … 🙂

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Eugenia wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 6:08 PM PST:

Yes, I have tried two of these phones and it took between 12 (V8) and 14 (Rokr E2) clicks. That is, from the front screen to access the bluetooth panel under settings and turn it on/off. My phones didn’t have any BT shortcut in the shortcut menu, if that’s what you are referring to.

And that’s another thing that always bothered me with Motorola’s Linux phones: no firmware upgrades. The ones that can be found on the internet are bootleg or leaked versions, pretty dangerous to flash. Zero responsibility to fix bugs.

Marc wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 6:19 PM PST:

Companies like Motorola are semiconductor companies and never will understand the importance of software. They don’t want to invest on software, they don’t want to buy software and they believe that any engineer can write good software if product management delivers the specs. They have to evolve or they will disappear.

mark azhun wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 7:19 PM PST:

There be but simple rules in expectation of profit. First that there be no free lunch and so someone actually will need to do the planning, coding, testing, tweaking, polishing, marketing and delivery of product to the consumer. Second that as a whole there be great burden at present in inefficient and unresponsive management to the health of the business since these are too often merely passing players. Alas too few business majors can make a product.

sergiusens wrote on March 26th, 2008 at 9:10 PM PST:

lol, I’m a soon to be ex-motorolan, I’ve been working on TEAM… used to work with EZX…
The funny thing is that I never new that Greg Brown had his emails printed, I’ve been too worried in eradicating the whole MS dependency… 😛

HangLoose wrote on March 27th, 2008 at 12:07 AM PST:

“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.”

There couldn’t be any better explanation about Motorola.
I have worked in a Motorola Division and when the higher execs would drop their asses around, supposedly to solve our problems, was better to have lunch/dinner and whatever.
No planning, no leader, no hit product, no salvation.

Bad products go to the garbage, good products tend to survive DOT

NotTelling wrote on March 27th, 2008 at 5:24 AM PST:

I’ve got the e680i. It’s not really that great although it sort of works and better than the existing Motorola UI. Moto did take EZX seriously. Most major development effort have been poured to shape EZX into the new MOTOMAGX. EZX was not built to be maintained, while keeping the old OS running was getting more and more difficult (the new 500 MHz chip helped a lot :)).

The new E8 interface is really slick and more polished than the e680i. However, the new platform is an engineering disaster (I’m sure there will be lots of stories coming out later). Moto is not lacking talented and passionate people. They just suck at understanding what’s needed to make and maintain good software.

Jason wrote on March 27th, 2008 at 9:03 PM PST:

You’re pining for a successful software platform that never was. You saw potential in an otherwise terribly poor interface. But the same could be said for *any* phone platform that has ever existed. Your post comes across as the sour regret of a Linux zealot, not of a fan of Motorola engineering.

Sure, Motorola leadership missed the boat… on being successful. Certainly they’ve missed opportunity after opportunity over the last couple decades to become a segment leader in personal technology. But it’s ludicrous for you to pinpoint the sole source of their failures on a single mobile phone line.

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Eugenia wrote on March 27th, 2008 at 10:28 PM PST:

>as the sour regret of a Linux zealot

Hahaha… I suggest you read more about myself and Linux before you say this. I am sure there will be a lot of readers here who would call me a “Linux hater” instead.

>But it’s ludicrous for you to pinpoint the sole source of their failures on a single mobile phone line.

The point of my blog post was about Motorola not realizing where the market was going: high end software, SDKs, smartphones. EzX might not have been the best platform in the world, but it was something, at a time where no one else had anything like that.

Miro Hero wrote on March 28th, 2008 at 1:07 PM PST:

Motorola did the same as many others American companies did – they cut their personnel to the extend that only minimum product support left. Like CircuitCity when laid off all salesperson, so they can increase profit margins :). Silly, of course the business will go to non-existance sooner after that, but meanwhile the top management made huge bonuses /which are effectively pegged to the profit margins/. So the management is not stupid, they just don’t care if that company would exist after the accounting year-end closing. Sorry, but this is the present business reality.

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