05
Sep
2012-09-05_19h22_57

Today, something happened that has not happened in an age: I actually got excited while watching a Motorola event. Don't get me wrong, the devices were still middling at best (though the RAZR M does seem kind of snazzy). What happened wasn't that Motorola announces some earth-shattering devices. No, this was more important: Motorola got its groove back. Or, perhaps more accurately, Motorola started syncing its old groove up with Google's current one. (That's how grooves work, right?)

The presentation actually started in what should've been a boring way: with a history of the company. This is the first time we've seen a really huge Motorola announcement since Google finalized the purchase of the manufacturer in May. We don't want to hear about the company's past. We want to hear about its future, right? Well, here's where Moto played things brilliantly. And it can all be summed up in one, perfect, beautiful slide:

2012-09-05_16h56_38

From left to right, for those who weren't watching, that is Neil Armstrong, Martin Cooper, and Sergey Brin. Motorola pointed out (bragged, really) that the first words Armstrong spoke on the moon were relayed by a Motorola device. Martin Cooper, likewise, is an incredibly influential figure in the mobile landscape, having led development of the DynaTAC, one of the earliest Zack Morris cellular phones for consumers. Dr. Cooper was actually present for the presentation, which only made it all the more exciting. And of course, Sergey Brin was lauded to the crowd for embodying the engineering spirit at Google that led to a team of skydivers participating in Google+ Hangout while freefalling towards the earth via Project Glass.

The Spirit Of Engineering

If you want to inspire people, you can't do much better than putting a lead developer of the modern mobile phone, a co-founder of one of the most influential software companies on earth, and the first man to walk on the moon in the same slide. You cannot look at this image and not appreciate, on some level, the awe-inspiring magnitude of the future we're living in. The fact that it indirectly ties Motorola's past to Google's future is just icing on the symbolism cake.

The only way Moto could've tugged on the heartstrings of tech enthusiasts—and, indeed, all of humanity—more is if they had a surprise visit from the Mars Rover. Sure, there was a bit of snark indirectly aimed at Apple, but step back a bit here and take a look at the overall message. It's easy to think of Motorola as being the company that can't seem to turn off Caps Lock. In fact, it's easy to think that most devices we see are "crap." Just take a look at some of the reactions to the RAZR MAXX HD on Twitter today for example. But step back for just a moment and realize how far we've come in so short of a time. The mobile landscape has changed so dramatically and so quickly that the first man to ever make a phone call on a consumer-oriented phone is still around to see the announcement of new devices today.

It's safe to say that Motorola isn't commanding the same level of inspiration that it used to. In fact, in recent years, the company has been very close to bankruptcy. However, what this portion of the presentation today demonstrated more than anything is that, in the wake of the restructuring, the Google acquisition, and even the layoffs, the new Motorola hasn't forgotten its engineering roots nor the kindred spirit it has in Google.

The full event, for those who missed it.

The Understanding Of The User

The next major portion of the presentation discussed what users want in a smartphone. Most presentations will discuss what customers want in a product, but the purpose is usually to tout a specific feature. While that was somewhat true of today's devices, there was a sense that Motorola was talking about more than just the new RAZRs.

The company's newly minted CEO talked about the "big bets" they have made—speed, power management, and Android—as a template for where Motorola's engineers will pursue innovation. He also made waves by making some pretty lofty promises. First off, all the devices announced today will have developer editions available sans locked bootloaders (though that might be more accurately described as a compromise). The second promise was that all the devices announced today would receive Jelly Bean by the end of the year. Which honestly disappointed plenty of people. The third promise, though, almost makes up for it.

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Motorola announced that it will upgrade "most" of the devices it launched in 2011 to Jelly Bean "very soon." For those that cannot be upgraded, however, Moto promised a $100 credit for anyone upgrading to any of the devices announced today. Unfortunately, you'll have to turn in your old phone to get the credit. This makes it little better than a trade-in program, but at the very least, it's coming from a manufacturer, not a carrier. Until we find out which phones you can trade in, we can't be sure if you'd be better off just selling it on craigslist (though it's likely that the devices that can't be upgraded to Jelly Bean are also the phones worth the least money). Still, for those who don't want to go to the trouble, it's a nice option. Oh, and for those counting, this means you could get a RAZR M for free on contract. It's not a bad deal.

Put all this together, and Motorola has painted a picture that looks very similar to what users have been wanting for a while: the option to unlock bootloaders (even if it does come at an unsubsidized price), faster devices, longer battery life, and a priority on upgrades if they can deliver. And if they can't, there's at least a program in place for an alternative way out. Which is more than we can say for most companies. Oh, and did I mention that most Motorola devices now use a version of Motoblur so pared back it's almost indistinguishable from stock Android? It's actually a pretty great vision of where Moto should head. Of course, the picture is great. The delivery would be even better.

The Promise Of The Future

The RAZR M's "edge-to-edge" display is the perfect metaphor for Motorola's potential right now: an ambitious goal, and the execution is certainly closer, but we haven't quite reached the edge just yet.

The big problem with everything Motorola laid out today is that it's a lot of lofty goals without much execution realized just yet. Once the event dies down, we're left with the phones. This may not be the best position to be in. Motorola still has some of its old DNA smattered across its current line of products. It's difficult to imagine that Matias Duarte is sitting over at Google HQ not cringing at the name DROID RAZR MAXX HD.

I can't say for sure that this will go away. I can't know if Motorola will start releasing some outstanding pieces of hardware. No one can. The RAZR M is a good start. It occupies the "smaller" phone size market—in that it has a 4.3" display, the same size as the original Evo that helped kick off the giant phone craze. How far we've come. Still, the RAZR M isn't a flagship. It is, at best, a very nice mid-range phone. The RAZR HD and RAZR MAXX HD seem to be solid devices, but more could be done. Motorola is owned by Google now. A device that's "good enough" isn't going to cut it. People may not expect Nexuses, but they certainly want to see something close.

Smartphone manufacturers are not speed boats, though. They're cruise liners. Changing course is a difficult maneuver that requires a ton of people and a lot of time. There's very little chance that Motorola put these phones together in just the four months since Google took over. What has changed, though, is the attitude. The spirit of Motorola is shifting. People have been placed in positions of leadership in the company to attempt to take it in a new direction (despite Schmidt's claims that Google bought the company but will "let you continue to run it.") What we saw today felt very much like when Google first announced Google+. The products weren't quite there yet, but you felt like this time, they get it. One of the things we grow accustomed to in the mobile world is broken promises, so we'll maintain a degree of skepticism and hesitancy going forward. But if you were looking for a reason to get excited about the new Motorola, and if you want something to base your hope that Moto phones will get better in the future, this presentation today was it.

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • Jack Mabry Jr

    Great article, just wish I could get those devices on Sprint :( I am a fan of Moto, have a Photon but I don't have a great choice for my upgrade right now and will most likely be switching to the SIII.

    • LewisSD

      Motorola needs to offer their flagship phone across all carriers like Samsung has done.

  • http://www.webpowerandlight.com David Bullock

    Motorola is no stranger to breaking promises. More promises is not a reason to get excited. Actually showing that they can execute and not just talk about it would be worth reporting on.

    • sonicxml

      I think that they are much less likely to break their promises now that Google owns them and has put its own people in control

  • ElfirBFG

    Maybe means official JB for the Atrix4G? I get video recording back!? Probably not, but I'd gladly take the $100 trade-in if they'll take a phone with an unlocked BL.

  • eddieCPA

    i only bought into the nexus program, but with Motorola's new phones and their commitment to upgrades, i'm thinking of getting the Razr M

  • blue horseshoe loves…

    snore...more slabs.

  • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

    Exactly, the phones announced today are big disappointment, but a year or two from now, we may see Moto taking back the space occupied by Samsung.

  • Lou

    You know, I will actually hold my reservation of "being excited" when Moto finally decides to give their quality smartphones to other carriers BESIDES JUST VERIZON in the states. The last time I ever had a Moto phone that was quality and was outside of verizon was when THE ORIGINAL RAZR came out.

    Its time for them to stop piggybacking on Verizon in the states and start showing love to all the carriers with their quality phones. Otherwise Samsung is just going to keep showing them up.

    Also I would not get excited over their new promises, Moto has never been one to hold up their promises over things. Even if they did I am sure that only a fraction of the fraction they would be promising to would be able to get what they want. Leaving the rest forgotten. Even with Google owning them unless there is some ACTUAL strategy change that we will see with our own eyes happening and not just talk. This is not going to change much.

    I am sorry for being so negative about this, but I really love Moto. I love Moto a lot, but they need to start showing love to other carriers and hold up their promises on things they said in the past and in the present.

  • Stocklone

    Motorola is on the right path. I love all the changes they are making at the company. Especially bringing in the person from DARPA. In 2011, I was about to award them the Worst Tech Company of the Year. I cursed the name so many times that year. The XOOM felt like a giant kick in the crotch. I eventually gave it to HP though for destroying webOS. And because Moto redeemed themselves with the RAZR. This year I ended up buying two Motorola phones: RAZR MAXX for my father-in-law and Photon Q for my wife. And I think their future looks amazingly bright. I'm more excited about Moto than Samsung or HTC at the moment. I am most excited about Nokia than anybody right now but you guys probably don't want to talk about the 920. :)

  • Jack Mabry Jr

    I hope the roaming charges were not too bad.

  • Turb0wned

    A few things you guys need to remember.. Moto will be giving out alot of $100 even if they don't break there promise. Why? Because of Verizon. Verizon will make sure they don't get the update in a timely manner.. Still don't like Moto's phone design and there camera is still JUNK!

  • http://twitter.com/jeux999 Daner Doodle

    ۞│۞ expect Nexuses.

  • funkyblue

    No one noticed the MAXX HD is CDMA only? Will not even be able to import. Motorola stuffs up again.Since 4G uses so much more battery the extra capacity in the RAZR HD will be used, so you will not get any improvement really.Why no 3G/4G MAXX?

    • Freak4Dell

      The HD MAXX will work just fine on 3G.

      • funkyblue

        My mistake. Still should have been a full range LTE though. Why buy a 3G phone end of the year, when the 4G networks are rolling out?

        • Freak4Dell

          I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Pretty much every phone that Verizon has released since 2010 has supported their LTE network. Likewise, the RAZRs introduced today will support 3G (EVDO) and 4G (LTE). If you happen to be in an area that doesn't have LTE, it will drop down to 3G. Hell, if you happen to be an area that doesn't have 3G, it will drop down to 2G. If you're worried about battery life, you can turn of the LTE radio and just use 3G (though you might need to root for this).

          Also, as far as CDMA goes, Motorola usually drops the Droid branding (that's licensed by Verizon) and releases a GSM version for the rest of the world. The RAZR and the RAZR MAXX are both available as international variants, and I see no reason these new ones wouldn't be, either. We already know of the UK version of the RAZR M.

          http://www.motorola.com/Consumers/XW-EN/Consumer-Products-and-Services/Mobile-Phones?features=41492

          • funkyblue

            Forgot to say I am in Australia. We are just starting to get LTE here. I want a MAXX HD supporting LTE/3G.

            Telstra out biggest carrier are only releasing the HD and M not the MAXX. The MAXX according to the spec sheet will not support LTE specs used here in Australia.

            http://mediacenter.motorola.com/Fact-Sheets/DROID-RAZR-MAXX-HD-Fact-Sheet-3b97.aspx

            (Hence why I suspect it is not being released.)

            Our biggest network provider is only released the HD and M.

            http://www.motorola.com/Consumers/AU-EN/Home

            I want a MAXX with 4G supported here. Seem's Motorola is only interested in the US market.

          • Freak4Dell

            Ah, gotcha. Yeah, you may be out of luck, then. That's kind of odd, since it wouldn't be that much more work for them to just do the MAXX for you guys, too, but I guess maybe Telestra didn't dish out the money for it. Maybe you can keep an eye out for the international version of the HD MAXX and see if it supports the LTE frequency that Telestra uses. If so, you might be able to buy it on your own and just put your SIM card in. If I understand, there's no current radio that supports all LTE bands, so even in the old RAZRs, the Verizon version and the international versions had different radios. There's still hope, if some other carrier in some other country uses the same frequency for LTE.

            I think the reason Motorola prioritizes Verizon's LTE bands is because Verizon's network is pretty huge. Most other carriers, globally and in the US, are still working on getting LTE running, but Verizon has had it for a long time now, and are expanding it rapidly. Plus, Verizon does pay them boatloads of money to develop phones for them, after all.

          • funkyblue

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4G_Australia

            Those are the bands proposed here.
            Basically 1800mhz/700mhz will be the norm.

            What is currently being used in the USA and proposed?

            Hope it is similar. So Verizon finally has a network compatible with the rest of the world!

          • Freak4Dell

            Verizon is using 700 right now, I believe, but don't quote me on that. I think they also have plans to use 800 and possibly 1700 in the future.

          • funkyblue

            Hopefully they are using 700mhz. That is what will eventually be used here. I am sure Verizon users will be happy if they do not need special phones all the time.

          • Freak4Dell

            Yup, that's a dream of mine, too. It'd be nice to see an America where the wireless carriers compete on, oh, I don't know, service, rather than phones.

  • Michal Connor

    They really suck. Personal opinion of course. Too sharp angles, too many lines and details popping out of the design. Flatter, more curved and plain like Galaxy S3 looks better. It should all be about the display. Everything else should be secondary. Nobody cares about a sleek button or cute colors. Personally, I just want a big display with as little stuff as possible around it. Kudos Samsung :P

  • Jonathan Wong

    We might see a Motorola made Nexus in the future.

  • Tough_Tech_Babe

    Motorola, show me the money.

    Or at least... the hardware.

    Release a new device... that totally blows the S3 out of the water.
    And do it within the next month. Make we want to sell my junky, old S3.

    I'll be impressed.

    But that's VERY unlikely. It will probably be 2-3 months... and it will probably be "around S3 level".

    Not good enough.

    I don't "get excited" as easily as Eric R. "Promises" don't excite me. "Predictions" don't execute me.

    Motorola, show me the money.

    • Nick Carter

      They did show you - it's called the Atrix HD. It has the S4 processor, LTE, a beautiful display, 4.0.4 onboard with the minimal Moto UI, a nice camera, superior build quality, and it's $150 cheaper on contract if you get the phone from Best Buy.

  • http://profiles.google.com/danielm.nc Daniel Marcus

    Honestly, though, what do you really want out of a phone? Samsung keeps pushing speed and super saturated screens, but crappy firmware, finicky radios, and mediocre-at-best battery life, not to mention many of their flagship devices having a construction quality that makes me cringe, keeps me from being particularly enthused. When I had the opportunity to upgrade my phone, I chose the Droid 4. A dual-core 1.2ghz processor is fast enough. I have yet to think "I wish I had more processing power". A gigabyte of RAM is plenty. The display isn't the best in terms of sharpness, but it's very bright and visible outdoors, and best of all, it is power efficient. I have a 4G phone that still has 60% battery at the end of a typical day for me. The phone has also surprised me. It got splashed in a river, and the water resistant coating did it's job; I just shook the water out of the keyboard and went right on with what I was doing. The camera is much better than I imagined it would be. Smart Actions are a great addition to Android, as is the wireless printing, and the extra unlock icons. The only think I ask of Motorola is that they keep the firmware up to date as long as it makes sense, and I would be thrilled if they unlocked the boot loader (though we do have kexec, and can already load Jellybean with a custom kernel).

    • Freak4Dell

      Yes, yes, yes, and some yes.

    • Fuzzypaw

      The most important thing I want out of a phone is to be available on my carrier of choice, and that is never going to be "we hate our customers" Verizon.

  • http://twitter.com/PCSievers P.C. Sievers

    Maybe its cos I am not a stylish fashionable person but I like the look of the RAZR line. And the M in all white that will be launched here in the UK, yes please.

    But these are not the droids we were looking for.

    Make the M smaller, 4" is fine, with the internals of the HD to basically carve its own niche. Trust me, the first manufacturer to make that phone gets my next contract upgrade in a few months and I am sure I am not alone. With the Nexus 7 so cheap there is a huge market for people who want to devolve back in size.

    Make the Edgeless phone mean something. The M is not edge to edge. I expected some kind of a tiny bezel around the screen to protect it and didnt buy into the sci fi hype but there is a reason why people who wanted edge-to-edge are disappointed. And for gods sake do edge to edge in a top of the line phone with a big screen - id have gone for at least the same size screen as the HD and HD MAXX. Oh and hire a guy to come up with names, this just aint working.

    As for the HD MAXX that battery is awesome and nothing is bad about it, but it just isnt "kapow"ing at people when they see it. The Maxx is probably the workhorse of people who like specs and/or want to use a smartphone that wont last a full day of full use but its not an easy USP to market to people.

    Oh and its sad to see the lapdock seems to have been executed and buried quietly out back of the Moto factory. I loved the concept, it just unfortunately didnt measure up.

    • Freak4Dell

      The people who wanted true edge to edge are disappointed because they had unrealistic expectations. Motorola would have had to make major software changes to make a true edge to edge phone actually user friendly in the real world. Of course, then people would complain that it's too hard to make custom ROMs for it. People who are caught up in the futuristic sci-fi movie mentality will probably never be happy.

  • Freak4Dell

    I'm not getting excited about Motorola now because I never lost excitement for them before. I saw no reason to. They have brought us some great devices. Sure, none of them have had specs that blow your mind, but that's not necessary. I'll take a few solid phones that perform well over one ridiculously specced phone. At the same time, they were willing to do things other companies weren't. Show me another manufacturer who made a portrait QWERTY phone. Samsung did it, but it was a low-end device. It's a dying breed, but I'm so glad that Motorola at least did make it, which let me prolong having to get a damn slate for another couple of years. Show me another manufacturer who is actually willing to put a decent sized battery in their phones. Samsung and HTC are too focused on other things to think about the battery. As for design, I think the Motorola designs look way better than the recent stuff that Samsung has done. The SII was a good looking device, but the SIII looks like crap. The Droid devices look way better. HTC always made beautiful devices, though. The call quality and reception on my Motorola is better than any of the Samsungs or HTCs I've owned before.

    Don't get me wrong. Motorola certainly had flaws. I just think they're blown way out of proportion. The whole bootloader thing is something that 1% of users care about, but we see it as a huge complaint because we hang around these tech sites all the time. They did most of their quality work for Verizon, and the other phones were all half-assed, but they're working on that now, too. I hear really good things about the Photon devices. They could have done updates faster, but name a manufacturer that actually does those right. None of the big ones do, that's for sure. The naming scheme definitely needs some work, but Motorola is far from the first company to have stupid names. Samsung can fill entire bookshelves with lists of stupid things they've called their phones.

    I don't see how any of the phones announced today are disappointments. If anything, the only thing that disappoints me is that the regular HD seems totally unnecessary. Other than the price difference, I can't think of a single good reason to go with the HD over the HD MAXX. Same with the first RAZR. They should have just done the MAXX by itself. Anyway, how are the phones announced today not high end? Other than the RAM, the HD is pretty much the same phone as the SIII or the OneX. The only difference between the HD and the M is the screen. The size of the screen is not a reason to bump a phone from high-end to mid-range. Some of us actually want smaller phones that have high-end internals. Hell, if anything, the M might perform better than the HD, since it has less pixels to push.

    It's time to stop shitting on everything that doesn't have some absurd amount of processing power or memory, and snap back to reality. As long as these phones are not buggy, they will be excellent contenders in the market.

    • http://visionaforethought.wordpress.com/ Oflife

      Spot on.

    • Manuel

      You...I like you.

      • Freak4Dell

        Why, thank you, sir!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.gjodvad Mark Arpon Gjødvad

    For my next phone I'll strongly consider Motorola. :D

  • funkyblue

    Did they talk about Motoblur etc? What about developer support? Will the standard version's be unlockable and will they release drivers and code quickly? (Like Samsung and Sony?).

  • http://visionaforethought.wordpress.com/ Oflife

    Good article and be assured, this is only the start of Moto's come back. ;)

  • Ittiam

    The thing that epitomizes what was wrong at Motorola is that they named their Android Skin 'Blur' ... Who names a UI 'blur'!! They could have as well named it 'Sharp'... would have still made some sense... But blur.. OMG!!!.... Didn't anybody in the entire company realize that the dictionary meaning of blur is "To become unclear and less distinct"

    Hopefully better sense (no pun) prevails.. I have Atrix and I like the hardware and overall design... Its a good solid phone... Hope they get their mojo back

  • zebelious

    Unless the same people work in the Marketing and PR departments as an international user I will not trust Motorola regardless who owns it. Motorola has years of bad service to make up for. I'm not going to be impressed by Motorola while on stage, deliver what you promise consistency then I would see.