When is Motorola going to get it together?


Business Week has an article comparing Nokia to Motorola, and asking why the former is kicking the latter's ass so soundly (more or less). I'm wondering the same thing. I've said it before: as much as I like Nokia, it'd be nice not to watch an American technology icon slowly kill itself.

There are a variety of reasons why Motorola is failing - the article touches on many of the issues, from manufacturing problems, to marketing and segmentation mistakes and more. And while those issues are vital, I couldn't tell you anything about how to fix them, so I won't try to weigh in on that stuff. But I do know one huge area where Motorola is failing horribly, and that's in interacting with mobile enthusiasts and independent developers. This is something that Nokia has been leading the way on for years now, and I'm astounded that Moto has yet to catch on. I personally have spoken to dozens of Nokia employees, gone to gatherings at Nokia offices, and been contacted in a variety of ways online by all sorts of Nokia people big and small. I wish I could say the same for Moto, but I can't... and they're here in the US!

Now I understand that when it comes down to it, a manufacturer's customers are really the carriers, and when push comes to shove they get the top priority. But engaging the end user is vital, which is why I assume Nokia is putting so much effort into it. This sort of outreach ultimately affects Nokia's global distribution - not a lot in the short term I'm sure, but in the long term. Being in touch with their most enthusiastic users and developers will definitely pay dividends as time goes by and help Nokia stay on the cutting edge and creating products customers want. The lack of a comparable effort by Motorola is really a mystery to me. How are they supposed to design the next generation of mobile phones without engaging the community? Trust me, I subscribe to just about everything there is to read about mobile on the web and I can't recall ever hearing of Moto reaching out to enthusiasts in any real way.

Here's some questions about Motorola's mobile strategy that complete baffle me:

What's the platform? Moto has now launched phones with every conceivable OS there is: Linux, Java, Symbian, Microsoft, and yet, there's no sense that there's any effort to create a unified target for developers. This year's models are a hodge podge of platforms, styles and markets with almost no common theme besides four letter names. I expect this sort of lack of commitment from the Asian manufacturers like Samsung and LG because they excel at high-volume, high-quality products with a broad focus, but Moto is an American company that supposedly prides itself on innovation - so where is it? (That frigin' Moto GUI is awful and has been for years. Innovating there first would be a wonderful start, IMHO.)

Where's the independent developer community? The developer.motorola.com site has a decent set of specs for their phones, but doesn't seem to have any sort of forum or way to interact with other developers. (If it is there, it's hard as hell to find.) And why are Moto's Linux phones still only available in Asia? And why are they still all locked down? Why is OpenMoko leading the way to launch the first completely open Linux phone and actively courting the OSS community when Motorola could have done it years ago? Where is Moto's equivalent to the Nokia 770 and N800? Why isn't Motorola leading the way here?

Where's the Internet strategy? During the launch of the iPhone, we heard various comparisons to Nokia's multi-map browser or Opera's mobile versions, but where was Moto during all that hype? Why isn't Motorola doing anything to embrace the obvious next stage in mobility, starting with a decent mobile browser? Hell, Apple has neither an open platform nor a dev community and yet they seem to be getting lots of converts just by providing a great browser on their iPhone. I think it's something that Motorola should be paying attention to, if you ask me.

This stuff seems so obvious... I'd really love to know what Motorola is thinking and why.

So obviously, I think that Moto needs to open up and engage their end users more. (This would, for example, show them obvious stuff like the fact that even though "thin" is still in, "narrow" phones are dumb as bricks as it makes the screen too tiny.) This isn't a general marketing thing, as they've had some great campaigns in the past few years in my opinion (I can still hear that German guy's "Hello Moto" voice in my head), I'm talking about the *enthusiasts*. Greater focus on forums and blogs would be a good start. I mean, Padmasree Warrior's blog is nice, but the other two official blogs just outright suck (and where are the other Moto employees hiding?). Moto should also engage the dev community, and help them make Motorola a must-have *platform* for mobility - there should be no reason that OpenMoko is winning hearts and minds over Motorola when it comes to Linux phones.

And finally, I think Moto just needs to take some BIG risks and figure out a way of ridding themselves of the carrier monkeys on their backs. The MotoStore is a good start - I love being able to buy unlocked phones directly from them - but there needs to be more focus on the end user and developer community in the phones themselves. Get rid of the limitations to memory, storage, and access to the underlying OS, let the hackers start getting crazy, and then quickly incorporate that stuff back into the hardware. If you want to foster a bunch of enthusiastic users who will tell all their friends to buy Moto devices (rather than telling them to avoid them at all costs), that'd be a great way to start.

Just my thoughts.


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