Motorola’s Success: The Repertoire That Saved Them
Motorola had a big turn-around in just a few years. While their Droid line-up was one of the devices to kick-start the hearts of Android fans, they had a short period of time where their direction was not all that clear. For a while they released devices like the Droid Razr that weren’t bad in themselves, but failed to stand out against giants from Samsung and others. In particular I remember the Galaxy S getting a lot of buzz, yet on contrast, I can’t recall much Motorola praise from that year. For a while it seemed that what was once a thriving cellphone company that began mobile history itself by introducing the Motorola DynaTAC (first commercial consumer mobile phone) was now falling into a norm of mediocrity. Some bloggers mourned the death of Motorola a little too easily and a little too soon, but others had faith that they’d recover, and replicate their 2009 Droid success just like they took the world by storm with the ultra-popular Razr feature phone.
What seemed to completely alter the course of history for Motorola was Google itself. On August 2011, Google announced that they would be buying Motorola Mobility for the astounding amount of 12.5 billion dollars. While Motorola had an impressive patent wardrobe byproduct of its legacy standing in the industry, even analysts understanding the details such a deal would entail had trouble putting their finger on the billion dollar question’s answer: Did Google overpay?
Right from the start, Google made their goals very clear. They saw in Motorola an opportunity to accelerate innovation and choice in mobile computing, and at that time they teased what would become one of the roots of this current success: “Consumers will get better phones at lower prices”. That vision, in addition to the patent portfolio Google acquired to “protect” the Android ecosystem, seemed to be justifiable enough to warrant a purchase, but when you talk billions, the lines of what’s smart and what isn’t suddenly start blurring out.
During the first few quarters of Google’s control over Motorola, people were still rather hesitant, doubtful or reluctant. What sparked further controversy was the fact that in October 2012, we learned about the reports of Google’s new company’s losses. The legacy manufacturer had managed to cost Google $527 million in just the third quarter of the year. And $505 of those were shed from the mobile segment. But there was a catch that many didn’t take into account, that would be crucial for the transformation we now lay eyes upon: almost $350 million in costs were associated with “restructuring and related charges”. What could Motorola be baking that would cost them so much money?
Motorola’s 2013 strategy was a complete game-changer. They trimmed their devices to a meaningful line of two: Moto X, Moto G. Those letters symbolized the two target demographics they aimed at, and both devices were marvelously received. In fact, that’s probably an understatement. The Moto X didn’t sell quite like hotcakes, but it allured and mesmerized enthusiasts with a package that was the most consistent we had seen on Android as of that year. And then, the Moto G caused a revolution in pricing models for developing countries. While the first one was one of the best players in the game, the second was a game changer. This duo of phones once again raised hope in Motorola from analysts, journalists, and users alike.
In 2014, they continued the strategy but further strengthened it with more Moto G variants to cater to more consumers, as well as the further-budgeted Moto E, which once again aimed to bring Android to the hands of those hesitant to upgrading from feature phones. The difference this time was that the price was even cheaper than the Moto G’s. And as for the flagship line-up, the Moto X 2014 brought back everything we loved about the 2013 version, while seemingly improving every shortcoming. A Moto G refresh managed to keep their dominance on developing countries, and now they’ve also become the preferred players on the smartwatch game.
Let’s take an individual look at each of their products’ virtues.
This device was met with initial skepticism, due to the specifications it packed. While 2013 flagships were already featuring powerful quad-core processors moving pixels on a 1080p screen, the X settled for a more humble dual-core approach to sustain a screen of just 720p resolution. Some people initially dismissed this phone as a “lesser” flagship… but then they were proved wrong by the hundreds of raving reviews: it turned out that this phone didn’t need the latest in computing power, and neither the sharpest screen. What it offered was something high above the products other OEMs handed out that year, as they seemingly missed the forest for the trees. The Moto X simply granted the cleanest and most comfortable user experience on Android at its time.
The software was minimal, and based almost entirely on stock Android. Google’s strategy was focusing on the core of functionality, rather than try to make the phone “unique” or stand out with software or hardware features, gimmicks or quirks. It simply did great in every area – soft back cover that was grippy and comfortable, colorful AMOLED screen sharp enough for a 4.7 inch screen, decent battery and camera. The things it did offer over others were truly original and useful: Moto Assist allowed you to migrate devices in a pinch, Active Display provided quick glances to all of your notifications without needing to touch the phone, and Touchless Controls made Google Now our assistant before we even knew we really wanted always-listening functionality. And if that wasn’t enough, Moto Maker allowed you to make the phone truly yours, however you wanted it to look from border trims color to back cover textures.
Their 2014 offering was even better. An equally awesome design now made premium with the incorporation of metal elements, a bigger screen of higher resolution, the latest in processing packages for its time, and a much better 13MP camera – and it all retailed for just $500. This was impressive, considering the SoC and RAM were equal to that of the more expensive S5 and M8, but the lightness of the X 2014’s stock software made the device fly faster than the S5 and in some cases faster than the M8 too. The phone also featured the same great features, plus some new bits like Moto Actions to control your phone with air gestures and the highlight reel in the camera application. This phone was also one of the best received of the year, and it only got better over time with more Moto Maker offerings to further make your phone truly your own – a special bond no other manufacturer has replicated thus far.
The Moto G is no match for a flagship, as far as the whole package goes. The 2013 offering, though, was super solid. I bought one myself at the time, and I was simply impressed with the phone. From personal experience, I can tell you that the Moto G was definitely an interesting offering. For just $180, I got my hands on a phone that was super smooth and speedy, had a very decent 4.5 inch LCD panel, and a battery life to die for. The phone lasted close to two days on a single charge on a constant basis, and it even got close to my Note 3’s battery life. It was an astounding achievement. And it showed.
The phone was mostly marketed towards developing countries, as it promised a great user experience unlike the common bloated, slow and stuttering mid-range offerings of other OEMs that usually controlled those markets. Here in South America, the Moto G sold like hotcakes, and I now see multiple every time I step outside. Countries like Brazil became main markets, and India saw a big smartphone adoption partially due to the changes this new little device brought to the business model. It forced others to compete at lower prices, or risk getting undercut by this product which was often superior. And it ended up becoming Motorola’s best selling smartphone of all time.
The winning formula was expanded upon with many iterations over 2014, including a Moto G with LTE and sim-card support, and a a Moto G Forte that was rougher and more durable. But what they also offered that year was an upgrade in the form of the Moto G 2014, much like they did with the Moto X. This phone was better in many ways and the same in others. The screen was bigger at 5 inches, and the speakers were now on the front of the device and of better quality. The internals remained mostly the same, however, with the same chipset and RAM. The battery life was reportedly a tad worse than the original as well. But the best part was the new 8MP camera that severely improved upon that shortcoming. All in all, this strategy served them well and their latest version managed to grow that success.
The pinnacle of budget phones: This little trooper was announced in May 2014 as the most democratic smartphone a big OEM was known to push out. The specifications were not the most impressive, but for just $120, you could get a dual core Snapdragon 200 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 256 ppi 4.3 inch screen and all in a very durable package. The software was stock android, and so light that you wouldn’t know it was running on this kind of hardware.
This phone was the ultimate budget phone and it proved to even beat the successful Moto G in India, the main target country for these phones. It sold out in 16 hours, and on every wave of Flipkart launches, the device sold out within a few hours too. This pushed domestic brands to go on a launching spree of phones of similar specs that flooded the market, many of them running KitKat – which was designed for this very development. Google’s plan was meticulously successful once more, as it forced the low-end manufacturers to provide better Android experiences for all users.
Motorola was sold off to Lenovo for 2.91 billion in early 2014, just a fraction of Google’s original acquisition price, but it is widely reported that 2014’s happenings were still mostly under Google’s control. Nevertheless, Motorola’s individual success is notable, and Lenovo reported that their newest mobile baby has sold 10 million devices last year. This is 18% more than the final quarter of 2013, which marks a clear improvement in Motorola’s revenue – although it still doesn’t make the company profitable just yet. Most of this success is due to the Moto G previously explained, but all the devices we talked about contributed. So did others that we didn’t mention but deserve recognition for their amazing experiences, like the Nexus 6 and Verizon’s Droid Turbo. We also didn’t cover the great Moto 360 release they had that rapidly became the go-to device for Android Wear, and the insignia of smartwatches as a whole. It was all too good, and it all meant a richer Moto.
While any OEMs’ future is partially undecided, the fact that Motorola became such a presence in the enthusiasts’ eyes and third-world markets is nothing to scuff at. They’ve got a clear following now, and their strategy and appeal seems to have carried on from Google to Lenovo, who made it their mission statement to continue Motorola’s new tradition of delivering great products at reasonable prices, as well as quick updates and outstanding support. There’s rumors of a new smartwatch on the horizon, but it’s still too early to hear more about their flagship refreshes. One thing’s for sure, though: with their current track-record, their adoption rates, their great sales and diverse and rich repertoire of devices, they can potentially expand in uncharted ways. And now that they are bringing their products to China – one of the biggest markets – by the hand of Chinese giant Lenovo, things sure look bright.
What do you think of Motorola, their phones, and their future? Leave us your comment below!
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