Electronics and communication have made immeasurably gigantic leaps in the past century, propelled by the research and development efforts of companies from around the world. If one were asked to make a list of such companies that have contributed significantly in the field of Electronics and Communication, one would have to begin with the USA’s Motorola Inc. Starting in 1930 with the car radio that gave the company its present name (“motor”, meaning moving, and “ola”, meaning sound), Motorola has been the chief global pioneer in electronics and communication, engineering one ground-breaking innovation after another. Among its many achievements, the company introduced the world’s first transistor-based colour television, the first digital cable communication network, and to top it all, the wireless transceiver that Neil Armstrong used to make his famous comment from the moon.
In keeping with this market-leader image, when the telephone industry showed prospects of growth, it largely owed to Motorola again. Motorola designed the world’s first portable telephone, and followed it up with the DynaTAC 8000X, the first ever cellular phone. Since then, the company’s rise in the global phone market has been nothing short of meteoric. It reached its crescendo at the turn of the twenty-first century, when cellphones, especially in the United States, became synonymous with Motorola.
Equally spectacular has been Motorola’s more recent fall, culminating in the company’s division and the takeover of one of the halves by Google Inc. This half, termed Motorola Mobility, now looks set on the path of redemption.
For any technology enthusiast, therefore, it is a lesson and a treat to be told the story of this octogenarian giant. The following section outlines in brief Motorola’s greatest contributions to the phone industry.
Pioneers of innovation for three decades:
Being the virtual masthead of the global cell phone market from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, Motorola introduced several innovations that helped take cell phone design, specifications and software into ever newer generations. Aside from its cell phone business, the company created new standards for improving work efficiency as well. Some of the most prominent among such innovations are described below.
From brick to bar:
Beginning with a cell phone the size of an actual brick (the DynaTAC), Motorola improved upon it for more than a decade to finally make it usable for consumers. The design of the DynaTAC was comparable to a bar, and a form-factor that would dominate phone manufacturing for many years to come was born.
The flip phone:
With their second commercial cellphone introduction, the microTAC, Motorola ushered in an entirely novel design that, like the bar, would form part of the fundamentals of future phone design. While the flip design of the microTAC was mainly for aesthetic and dust protection purposes, the idea was later used in phones whose screens could fold over the keypad, like a clamshell.
The “wearable” phone:
After the introduction of the microTAC, users began wishing for a phone that they could carry around in their pockets. Motorola didn’t disappoint, coming out with the StarTAC, a revolution in cellphone size reduction. It was called the first “wearable” cell phone, and needless to say, set a new benchmark for consumer expectations. Its form-factor, an extension of the microTAC’s, entered the books as the “clamshell” design.
This paradigm-shifting philosophy, conceived and adopted by Motorola in the 1980s, turned the manufacturing principles of the time on their head. Focus shifted from quick, voluminous and possibly defective manufacturing to more elaborate methods that took time but eliminated customer complaints and the need for frequent repairing. Six Sigma drastically increased the work efficiency as well the quality output of companies, and is still the most prevalent operating principle across the world.
The RAZR series:
As competition in the cellphone market increased, Motorola found itself falling behind other companies for the first time. Gradually, first Samsung, then Nokia, and finally even LG grabbed greater market shares than Motorola. Ultimately, under Geoffrey Frost’s leadership, the company rose from the ashes in late 2004 with the RAZR. Size reduction and innovation in design: these had always been Motorola’s strongest assets, and the RAZR, with its minimalist size and modern clamshell form-factor, displayed to the world that the oldest cell phone manufacturer in the world was still capable of producing something new and refreshing. The RAZR, and its successor, the RAZR2, sold nearly 200 million units in nearly half-a-decade.
It is easy to surmise that Motorola, despite being the industry leader for many years, displayed great tenacity and resilience to respond to worthy competition when it arrived. The coming of the iPhone in 2007 was, however, a challenge on an unprecedented scale. Motorola needed to enter the smartphone market, and the choice was obvious: the biggest competitor of the iPhone’s iOS, Google’s Android.
The Droid and the “Googorola”:
The Motorola Droid helped its makers enter the world of feature-rich smartphones that focussed on combining advanced hardware, including multi-million-megapixel cameras, long-lasting batteries and super-fast processors, with the power of operative systems that, through a diverse range of apps, could fulfill nearly every consumer requirement. While the Droid had a touchscreen display like most of its rivals, it had two prominent features that revealed Motorola’s unique stamp:
The physical keyboard was considered to be on its way out, but the Droid demonstrated that it was still very much a preferred option among consumers. The slider form-factor that the keyboard necessitated was also quite unique, considering that most smartphones now carried the slate design.
The Motoblur skin that augmented the Droid’s Android 2.0 may have received mixed reviews, but it visualized a future that has, indeed, materialized. Its focus on social networking, including MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, is now the basic requirement of every smartphone. Motoblur proved yet again that Motorola had retained its forerunning vision.
Despite the Droid and its successors’ success and popularity, Motorola’s RAZR days have been well and truly relegated to the past. A delayed entry into the smartphone market looked to have cost the company dearly. In addition, the corporate culture of Motorola came under harsh criticism from various quarters, including people on the inside. In January 2011, the company split into two factions: Motorola Solutions, to look after the government and enterprise side, and Motorola Mobility, to take care of the cellphone business.
In August 2011 came an expected and welcome announcement: Google was to buy Motorola Mobility. The decision was only logical, as Motorola had come to base their smartphones almost entirely around the features of Google’s Android. All regulatory permissions were finally acquired in 2012, and a new era for Motorola Mobility was set to begin.
With Google’s software expertise and their own extensive experience in design, this new partnership is expected to put Motorola back on the global cellphone leaderboard. “Googorola”, as it has come to be called, is the first instance of two giants, one of the modern era, and another that has been on the scene for eighty-plus years, merging into a gestalt. The technological world awaits the wonders that it may sprout.
Fading into history:
A year later however, Motorola casts only a tiny shadow of its glory days. A look at Motorola’s mobile price list shows the sheer decline in the number of phones the company has been making and the fall in their prices. Motorola hasn’t launched any phones in recent times, except for a few mobiles in the Defy series that cater to the rugged user, and one phone in the RAZR series. It seems Motorola is slowly fading away into history. Google has not yet shown its love for Motorola and hasn’t yet made an exclusive Google Device with Motorola. Samsung, however, has gained the most from its association with Google. It has yet to be seen how Motorola will play out its role in shaping the future of smartphones and mobility. The company has done great things in the past, but sadly, that’s a habit they seem to have forgotten.
==== About the Author ====
Ashwin Sreekumar Nair works for MySmartPrice, a price comparison website that helps users find the best price for Mobile phones, Books, Cameras and lots more.