It’s 2005. Your mother’s Motorola RAZR is state of the art in the world of pink engineering. By 2007, 130 million RAZR phones had been sold. It was featured in Lost, Top Gear, Burn Notice, and other notable TV shows and movies at the time due to its popularity. Motorola had gained ground on Nokia, the leading phone manufacturer at the time, which meant the landscape was much more diverse than today. Nokia had the largest market share at 35% and Motorola was in second place with 21%. They had momentum to build on.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Apple, which made iPods and computers, released a product no one expected: the iPhone. Existing phone manufacturers were stunned at the level of polish and user friendliness offered by the entirely new experience. Well, maybe they did in private. Publicly, many companies released statements that are now just plain embarrassing. Steve Balmer, the CEO of Microsoft at the time, said “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” The CEO of Nokia said they would not change their thinking or approach. The CEO of Palm said, “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
Motorola stayed quiet and just kept their tears inside, I suppose. They already had smartphones on the market that were being outclassed immediately. Their first two smartphones came out in 2003, although they were hardly ‘smart.’ The Motorola Q was the smartphone best fit to compete with the iPhone at the time. It ran a terrible Windows mobile operating system and had no touchscreen support. Basically, it was nothing like the iPhone and a poor competitor.
It was two more years until Motorola had a more worthy competitor: the Motorola Droid. The Droid had been made in partnership with Verizon to compete directly with the iPhone. It had a touchscreen and a slide out keyboard to give people the best of both worlds. At least, that was the idea at the time. It ran a very early version of Android that was still not up to par. By this time, Motorola had lost market share all the way down to less than 5%. They had not responded fast enough to the new market pressures put on by Apple.
In early 2011, Motorola split into two separate companies. The first, called Motorola Solutions, kept all the profitable areas of their business, including police technologies, radios, and other commercial needs. Motorola Mobility was the second, and it was strictly their phone business and all its misfortune. By 2012, Motorola held just below 2% market share. They had one good thing going for them though. Google purchased Motorola Mobility and their entire patent portfolio for $ 12.9 billion that year.
Google’s purchase brought some excitement to the fans of Motorola’s Android devices. The Moto X, released in 2014, was one of the best smartphones of the year. Motorola was making competitive devices under Google, but they were not gaining market share. Then, it all fell apart. In late 2014, the remainder of Motorola Mobility was sold off to Lenovo for only 2.91 billion. Google had kept all the patents to itself and dumped the rest.
Present day Motorola Mobility is only kept alive by the ‘Moto by Lenovo’ branding to appeal to western customers. Almost all the staff that were part of Motorola have been let go and the devices Lenovo has been putting out under this branding is underwhelming. It’s truly disappointing that the stellar devices Motorola was working on in 2014 could not have continued, as a continuation of those devices might have brought them back into the game. Instead, we all watched as they slowly died. Motorola Solutions lives on, but their legendary phones are now just a thing of the past.