Opinion: Motorola Would Benefit from a Cleaner Release Strategy, Wider Availability
Motorola has been through somewhat of a rollercoaster over the past few years. Google purchased Motorola on May 22, 2012, and then quickly sold it off piecemeal, with the phone division going to Lenovo on January 29, 2014 for the lump sum of $2.91 billion. As one might expect from being owned by a California-based parent company and then being sold to a Chinese one, this created a noticeably stark shift in how Motorola went about handling its wireless business.
The Motorola that we know today is quite a bit different from the Google-owned Motorola that introduced the Moto X to the world in 2013 – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Under Lenovo’s ownership, Motorola has continued making the Moto G lineup a great way to get a quality smartphone on a budget. It has kept the software experience on its phones quite close to stock Android while adding a few useful additions here and there, and it also introduced the first successful modular system for smartphones with the Moto Z line and their respective Moto Mods.
However, as with any company, Motorola isn’t perfect. There are certain areas where it could be doing things differently, and – at least in my eyes – better. In this article I’ll argue that some of the issues of today’s Motorola spring from the Lenovo acquisition and the subsequent change in direction.
Motorola could stop limiting their phones as carrier exclusives
A few years ago, carrier-exclusive phones were huge. Samsung had a different version of the Galaxy S II for all four of the major carriers in the States, Verizon was the only place you could buy the Galaxy Nexus, and AT&T was once the exclusive provider for Apple’s iPhone. We’ve come a long way since those dark days, and even Samsung has begun offering singular hardware for big regions, yet this is a funk that Motorola has yet to fully work itself out of.
Motorola has been making Verizon-exclusive devices ever since 2009 with the original Motorola Droid, and while that partnership may have once served a useful purpose, all it does is create frustration for consumers in mid-2017.
Having your smartphone available for purchase through as many carriers and outlets as possible could have led to more sales, better visibility in an extremely crowded market, and fair treatment for all customers. I recall the announcement of the Moto Z and Moto Z Force, the excitement leading up the release and pricing details, and the immediate disappointment when the temporary Verizon exclusivity was announced. XDA’s Steven Zimmerman summarized this in his article Excessive Lag Time Between Device Announcement and Release is Killing Excitement :
The Moto Z line were some absolutely fantastic phones (they were some of my favorite phones for the year) with great battery life, solid performance, and a nice camera at an attractive price, but they announced the devices in June and didn’t start selling them until September (except for on Verizon where the regular and Force models shipped at the end of July, which was still almost two months after the initial announcement).
That’s three months of lag time for most markets, and as a result everyone forgot about it by the time they could actually purchase it. I didn’t even see a working Moto Z in person until 2017, and I go out of my way to test out every device that I can, even going into phone stores to just play around with new devices on occasion. As a result, a phone that should have been a contender for the best smartphone of 2016 barely sold 1 million devices globally last year…
Now, the company’s decision must have an economic incentive at heart – whether it’s to enhance marketing, its distribution channel, or supply Verizon with a phone that’ll drive or keep Motorola customers in the network. There may be subsidies at play, though I’m unsure as to whether Verizon’s promotion is really propelling these devices’ sales, and markets like the U.S. have no shortage of distribution channels for a well established company like Motorola. What we do know is that some of these most recent Moto releases have been well received by critics and consumers alike, and limiting their availability to a select carrier does cast out customers who would be willing to pay if they were able to actually use the device. The argument here is primarily about consumer satisfaction and availability, rather than minimizing the upfront cost for a select group of customers.
Let’s look at the new Moto Z2 Play for example:
Although you can technically buy the phone right now through Motorola’s website, the only variant that’s currently available is the Verizon one. Folks that aren’t on Verizon will have to wait until later this summer before they can purchase the phone, and when that time does finally come around, they’ll have to pay $499 versus the Verizon-exclusive pricing of $408.
The Moto Z2 Play is a great buy at $408, but if you aren’t on Verizon, you’re out of luck. And, once the phone is more widely released, that extra $91 makes it a much tougher sell.
Instead of playing favorites with Verizon, Motorola could have released an unlocked version of the Z2 Play for everyone and market it as one of the best phones you can buy for around 400 to 500 bucks (with competitors like the OnePlus 5 shooting for higher prices, it really can be). It’d allow anyone who’s interested to purchase one right now rather than waiting a few weeks to do so, and while the final retail price might be higher without that Verizon collaboration, it’s better for all the customers outside that specific network who’d like access to the device.
Motorola could listen more closely to its customers
When the original Moto Z Play was released last year, it aimed to offer a more affordable way to get into the Moto Mod ecosystem. The phone had a respectable design, solid display, fast performance, and a decent camera. The ability to use Moto Mods with this sub-$400 smartphone was a nice touch, but the real star of the show was the monstrous battery life.
The Moto Z Play is widely considered to be a battery champ among 2016 smartphones, and although this wasn’t a highlight feature that Motorola was really pushing for the phone in regards to its marketing, you’d think that the company would take note of this and then do what it could to ensure that the phone’s successor had similar (if not better) battery performance.
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Although the Moto Z2 Play received mostly positive reviews when it debuted this past June, Motorola took the best feature of the Z2 Play’s predecessor and neutered it on the new phone seemingly for the most unnecessary reason – to make it slimmer. A single millimeter slimmer.
Likely thanks to the Moto Z Play being slightly thicker at 7-millimeters, Motorola was able to cram a massive 3,510 mAh battery into the handset. With the Z2 Play, Motorola made the phone slimmer (5.99mm) and shrunk the battery (3,000 mAh). Consumers and critics alike praised the stupendous battery life on the Moto Z Play all across the web, but despite this, Motorola still decided to ignore it and turn the Z2 Play into something no one was asking for. Thankfully, it still performs quite well and is a solid device, but it feels like a step backwards compared to the original.
The number one rule in business is to give your customers what they want, and this is a rule that Motorola simply did not listen to with this latest product release. Critics and reviewers were quick to notice, thankfully, and that might make a difference in future releases. Instead of focusing on making its new phone as thin and lightweight as possible, Motorola could have paid closer attention to what its fans were saying, keep that same top-notch battery performance on the Z2 Play, and improve it in other ways that didn’t sacrifice a fan-favorite feature and a differentiating aspect of that device.
Motorola could turn the Moto X4 into its main release again
Motorola is scheduled to hold a press conference in New York City on July 25, and at this conference we’re expecting a few different smartphones to be announced. Of these phones, one of them is the Moto X4.
The Moto X line used to mean something special. When the first Moto X phone was announced in 2013, Motorola didn’t worry about outfitting it with the highest resolution display, fastest processor, etc. Instead, the company focused on making it run as smoothly as possible, introduced unique software features that weren’t available on most other smartphones, with a 4.7-inch display it used a form factor that was different from the large phablets that were being released alongside it, and it allowed customers to fully customize the phone to their exact liking with Moto Maker.
Most of these themes and ideas carried over to the 2nd gen version of the Moto X, and, to a certain extent, the 3rd gen Moto X Pure Edition. Along with all of the previous things I’ve already mentioned, the Moto X line was all about delivering a flagship smartphone with a rich user experience for considerably less money than the competition.
Based off of rumors we’ve heard for the upcoming Moto X4, Motorola appears to be completely abandoning everything that made past Moto X smartphones unique and turning the lineup into yet another mid-range offering. In that sense, it looks to be more of a sequel to the Moto X3 Play, rather than a continuation of the Style approach. According to the rumor mill, the Moto X4 will deliver a metal build, mid-tier Snapdragon processor, and dual-cameras for a relatively inexpensive price. It sounds fine, but you know what else it sounds like? Other mid-range smartphones that have been released in the past year, as all of those features (including dual-cameras) are increasingly making their way downstream to more affordable devices.
The Moto X line stood out as something different in the industry, and while Motorola could recapture that magic and turn the X4 into something that previous Moto X owners would be happy to own, they’re instead turning it into yet another slab of metal and glass. While the Moto X line has been more affordable than competing flagships, it was still propped up to, well, compete with said flagships.
You can argue that the smartphone industry has become slightly stagnant as of late, and because of this, Motorola could easily breath some much-needed newness and pizazz into it with a revival of what originally made the Moto X worthy of people’s attention. Bring back Moto Maker, integrate new, useful software features, and don’t be afraid to ditch the metal and glass designs that everyone is using nowadays (especially if it means a wide range of interesting textures, like what we’ve seen on other Moto X devices).
Motorola could streamline its crowded product lines… again
Having choice in any marketplace is a good thing. If you don’t like how Phone A looks, you can get Phone B. If you want a bigger screen that what Phone B has to offer, choose Phone C. Basic competition is healthy and needed, but Motorola could stand to benefit by slimming down its own offerings.
Here’s a quick breakdown of all the main handsets currently sold by Motorola:
Moto Z Family
- Moto Z2 Play
- Moto Z Force Droid
- Moto Z
- Moto Z Droid
- Moto Z Play
- Moto Z Play Droid
Moto G Family
- Moto G5 Plus
- Moto G5
- Moto G4 Plus
- Moto G4
- Moto G4 Play
Moto E Family
- Moto E4
- Moto E4 Plus
- Moto E4 (Amazon Prime Exclusive Edition)
Moto C Family
- Moto C
- Moto C Plus
Choice is a good thing, but it’s hard for us to see why they’d need 6 different handsets in the Moto Z lineup.
Imagine what Motorola could achieve if it limited itself to four phones – Moto Z, Moto X, Moto G, and Moto E. All four of those devices could serve its own purpose and group of customers, and by only having four phones to focus on, Motorola would have more time to make them the best phones they can be rather than worrying about producing more than 15 devices over the course of a single year. This was their approach in the earlier days of the Moto X line, to a degree, and both the Moto X and Moto G were iconic and successful releases (particularly the latter) with their own distinct character and purpose. With so many devices spanning the whole price spectrum with finer granularity, the line between each is blurred.
A move like this would resemble how Motorola used to release phones when it was under Google’s ownership. The Lenovo deal has been far from a bust, but this is one area where I think Google was better managing Motorola than how Lenovo is doing right now.
This article isn’t meant to bash Motorola. As an owner of all three Moto X smartphones and active recommender of the Moto G line, I’m actually a rather big fan of the company and what it’s done in the mobile landscape. However, I’d be lying if I said that some of the moves the company is currently taking do give me pause. The year is not yet over, and that means there are still more Motorola smartphones that have yet to be announced (just look at the picture above). I’m excited for what the company has to show off, but I also hope that some of the wishes manifested above come true at some point down the road. I want Motorola to succeed and be around for many more years to come, but I think that some changes do need to be made in order for the company to retain the identity and product philosophy that made it stand out from the crowd.
What do you think about Motorola’s release strategy and product philosophy in 2017? Discuss in the comments!