Google’s mobile phone division Motorola is desperate for a hit. At a price of $12.5 billion, the company was Google’s largest acquisition ever. It has yet to generate any ROI for Mountain View.
Motorola’s patent portfolio, the reason most-often cited as the driver of the acquisition, has seen its value dramatically reduced by the Google-FTC antitrust settlement and consent decree. In essence, that bars Motorola from using its IP for anticompetitive purposes — essentially as a sword rather than as a shield in patent litigation.
Motorola has continued to see its global and US handset share decline since the acquisition. The OEM now controls less than 2 percent of the global handset market. In the US, the company has a roughly 8.4 percent share, which continues to go down on a quarterly basis.
Just as with other major Android OEMs, Motorola continues to loose share mostly at the hands of Google-Android partner Samsung. The most popular Motorola smartphone today is the Droid Razr. An awkwardly designed phone, it’s very thin with a long battery life.
At the D11 conference this week, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside promised that the company would soon turn around with a range of exciting new handsets coming out “in the next six months.” He confirmed the long-rumored “Moto X” smartphone, formerly called the “X phone” as the company’s new smartphone flagship. The new device will be out at the end of Q3 this year.
*Source: comScore (August 2011 data include non-smartphone share; February 2013 data only reflect smartphone share)
While many argue the device is intended to compete with Apple, its true competitive target is the Samsung Galaxy S4. And when asked how it would compete against the S4, Motorola’s Woodside said that it would offer great battery life as well as low-power sensors making the phone more “contextually aware” and even anticipate user needs and behaviors. In other words, it would be the smartphone equivalent of Google Now (my words not his).
Woodside also said that one of the areas in which Motorola will “innovate” is around pricing. He envisions smartphone prices coming down across the company’s lineup and especially at the lower end and entry level. Because Google is not dependent on Motorola’s income or margins, he implied that the company could potentially buy market share with lower handset profits.
Yet, Motorola will need to do more than simply slash smartphone prices or incorporate lots of sensors before its smartphones will sell. It will need to do a much better job with overall design. The Motorola Android phones have been ugly and uninspired from a design standpoint so far. I hope that Moto X represents a new design direction for the company.
By contrast, HTC’s One handset has been widely praised, and by some, called the best Android smartphone on the market. But, while it has sold relatively well it can’t keep pace with the Galaxy S4. A “Google Edition” version of the HTC flagship, featuring “stock Android,” will be out in June for $600 unlocked. Regardless, it’s unlikely to have an immediate or significant impact on the company’s sales or market share, which is in decline.
Samsung itself is bringing out a “nexus-style” (stock Android) version of its S4 handset at some point later this year. It was announced at the Google I/O conference. Reportedly, the new handset will cost around $650.
In a separate D11 interview, Chrome + Android boss Sundar Pichai denied that Google had any concern about Samsung’s dominance of the Android ecosystem. He said that the ecosystem was broader and healthier than it has been portrayed by the press.