Has Motorola got its mojo back with the its first Android smartphone announced today?
The proof is still a ways off, but today's news of the Motorola Cliq, its first Android smartphone, coming this fall from T-Mobile USA and running the “Motoblur” service, are promising developments.
“What we have today is a Motorola that was left for dead, and it ends up beating the Samsungs and other manufacturers to be second to market with an Android phone behind HTC,” said Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research.
“Cliq might put Motorola on track to rebuild its momentum ,” Burden added. “One device doesn't make a success, but how they follow this up will decide things.”
Burden said it will also help to have T-Mobile selling the device since it was the first carrier in the U.S. to sell Android phones from HTC and has experience with Android customers.
“Except for when the Razr hit a few years ago, Motorola has been stumbling around in the dark,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst. “This Cliq could be the biggest opportunity for Motorola in many years.”
The Cliq and its Motoblur social service were described by co-CEO Sanjay Jha as an auspicious re-start for Motorola, which has been planning for nearly two years to spin off its cell phone business, but has not done so because market conditions weren't right. If the Android strategy at Motorola works as planned, there won't be as much motivation to spin off the unit, Burden and other analysts said.
“It's a very important starting point for us,” Jha said of the Cliq and Motoblur in comments at the GigaOm Mobile conference today. Motoblur will be introduced in other markets in 2010 and in a variety of form factors, where it will be known as the Dext, he said. In all, Jha said there will be multiples of tens of Android devices on the market in 18 months.
Motoblur will automatically sync conversations, contacts and content on the Cliq, Jha said. It will also have the ability to preserve a user's data on a secure server in the event the phone is lost. A user could restore that data to a new device and wipe the data off the old one, while at the same time using a home computer to find the missing Cliq using the device's GPS capabilities, Motorola said.
Several analysts said Motoblur's synchronization capability is apparently based on software Motorola had access to while it owned Good Technology, a division that Motorola recently sold to Visto. But the server backup features and some of the architecture have not been fully described for analysts, they said.
The cost of the Cliq was not announced, but Burden said it will probably sell for less than $200. “It has to sell for less than $200” because of competing products on the market, he added.
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Motorola desperately needed to introduce a new product focused on one platform and that will lead to other products in the future.
“In the past, they built one of every kind of device and they can't do that anymore,” he said. “Android was a good platform to target, and it allows Motorola to work with developers since it's open and can be customized.”
By contrast, Gold said if Motorola “can't come out with some slick new phones that have consumer or prosumer appeal, they will fail.”
Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., reserved judgment on how well the Cliq will be received. Noting that it's a slider device, a form factor that business users don't tend to like, Dulaney said the Cliq seems geared toward consumers who like to text. Business users also prefer a portrait or landscape-oriented touch screen that has a physical QWERTY keyboard as well.
The purpose of Motoblur is to bring together various interfaces for social networks and Internet access for simplicity, much as Palm Inc. has done with Synergy or HTC has done with Sense, Dulaney said. “The are going to blur different interfaces between social uses and business uses to make the device more people-centric than message-centric,” Dulaney said.
But Dulaney called Motoblur a “horrible name that is too much of a Freudian slip” for the kind of blurriness that has haunted the consumer division at Motorola for two years.
Both Dulaney and Burden said the heavy emphasis that Motorola has placed on Android further lowers the company's priority of building devices that use the Windows Mobile operating system, which Jha promised to do more than a year ago. “It looks like they'll keep de-emphasizing Windows Mobile,” Dulaney said, although he said another Windows Mobile device could be launched by year's end.
Today's announcement could spell the beginning of the end for Windows Mobile at Motorola, Burden added. “Motorola wants fewer platforms and has been very vocal about that,” he said.