By Stephen Schenck | July 23, 2013 7:17 AM
It almost seems unreal, looking back at it now, but there once was a time when Motorola was very nearly the public face of Android. Remember when the first Moto Droid launched, and the whole Droid Does campaign? The expectations that it could give Apple some serious competition? Over the years, Motorola put out some interesting phones in that Droid line, but backed further and further from the spotlight, while Samsung rose to Android dominance.
Samsung may be king of the Android hill for the foreseeable future, but all of a sudden now, Motorola seems to have discovered a spark. It’s too early to say, as we’re still anticipating a spate of new hardware approaching imminent launch, but it sure feels like the floodgates are about to open and bring us a new Motorola: one with attractive phones, competitively priced, and genuinely worth getting excited about.
The Long Climb
Right now, Motorola’s market share is in a sorry state. So far in 2013, the company has seen its piece of the US smartphone market fall from 8.4% in February to 7.8% in May – a number that’s almost certainly even lower now. While that still puts it ahead of LG, “at least doing better than LG” is pretty far from a badge of honor to wear with pride. Maybe there’s no smartphone OEM whose troubles we speak of more often than HTC, and even HTC has been commanding a larger share of the market than Motorola.
Really, that shouldn’t be very surprising. It’s been ages since Motorola had an exciting handset – we had the RAZR HD models last fall, but behind-the-curve specs made even those like bringing a dual-core knife to a quad-core gun fight. Really, the Maxx’s 3300mAh battery was the only part of that whole package that was interesting enough to enter purchasing decisions.
How did things get so bad, though? I can think of half a dozen factors that likely contributed to the situation, but there’s not one big, singular misstep. In the States, Motorola took far too willingly to carrier exclusives, fracturing its lineup, lagged behind its peers in terms of hardware innovation, and between Motoblur and slow regular Android updates, didn’t impress on the software front.
One moment in particular, when I got the palpable sense that Motorola was desperately struggling to stay afloat, was when the manufacturer released the Droid 4 not seven months following the launch of the Droid 3. What little brand loyalty it may have had left, specifically from Verizon users, who had for so long helped prop-up Moto sales, quickly eroded. It wasn’t even a particularly major upgrade, either, mostly just adding LTE support and some extra RAM, making the effort even more disappointing.
I also get the sense that Motorola envisioned itself as the Android equivalent of BlackBerry – the OEM to turn to for hardware keyboards. But then software keyboards got so good that the bottom fell out on the demand for hardware options, and Motorola was left alone, more than a little confused, and wondering what had become of its identity.
As Motorola – then spun-off into Motorola Mobility – continued to struggle in its attempts to turn a profit, Google emerged with its eyes on acquisition. After announcing its intentions in the summer of 2011, it ultimately closed the deal last May.
Right from the start, we were all looking to see what would become of this new arrangement. Google seemed committed to letting Motorola operating as a separate brand, and not trying to revamp it into some Nexus-fied family of cornerstone Android devices overnight – though it sure seemed like a lot of us kept expecting something like that to eventually happen, in one form or another.
For the longest time, we kept hearing talk of this Motorola backlog – all the devices in the pipeline – that were conceived in the pre-Google days and still needed to be fully realized before any handsets with a more soup-to-nuts Google influence could be seen.
At least, that’s the company line we’ve gotten, but as we approach the launch of the Moto X, it’s clear that something’s already different.
We’ve seen the new Motorola logo, now positioned as “a Google company.” While I still have my doubts about Moto X’s “made in the USA” label, that could be a killer marketing move – at least in the US, that is.
Now, the hardware could still fall short of what we’re used to from the likes of Samsung or HTC, but that’s not what’s important here – while Motorola has been lacking in the software department in years past, this time the Moto X is supposed to be optimized out the wazoo, and capable of delivering solid performance despite a lack of bleeding edge specs.
Recent rumors have also suggested that my concerns about the affordability of US manufacture might be unwarranted, and the phone could still launch with a price tag to rival the Nexus 4′s. It will be a little while before we know for sure, but even now, there’s this air of possibilities surrounding Motorola and the Moto X – hope, even.
I’m still not completely sold on this “new” Motorola – the new Droid Ultra models, in particular, feel like the company’s falling off the wagon – but I’m optimistic. I’d say that by the end of the year, we’re going to have a good sense of Motorola’s direction. I’m really hoping that means an upward trend, and I think we should all be expecting great new things from Motorola in the months and years to come.