If you want to learn what happened behind the scenes in the tumultuous world of Motorola in the past decade, Chicago Mag does an excellent in-depth feature of the company that is awaiting approval of its sale from Google to Lenovo. Some excellent bits:
Meanwhile, in arguably one of the worst decisions ever made by a major corporate CEO, Zander struck a deal with his Silicon Valley friend Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple. Together their companies created a Motorola iTunes phone, the first phone connected to Apple’s music store. “We can’t think of a more natural partnership than this one with Apple,” Zander said at the time. Named the Rokr, the phone launched in the fall of 2005. Jobs, who introduced it, called it “an iPod Shuffle right on your phone.”
Ouch, a Shuffle…
First Jha had to decide what operating system to bet on. Motorola’s five in-house systems didn’t make the cut; none were mature enough to rival the iPhone’s. Jha says that Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft at the time, presumed that he would choose Windows Mobile. “Steve told me that… I ought to devote 400 engineers to a Windows Mobile phone,” he says. “I told him that Microsoft’s success wasn’t my priority. I needed first to survive and did not have the resources to put even one engineer on it.” (Ballmer could not be reached for comment by press time.)
Or the “Nokia”
The presentation, held in early 2009, grew heated. One top Motorola executive declared that choosing Android over Windows Mobile was madness. Google’s system wasn’t ready for prime time, he argued, whereas Microsoft was one of the most powerful software companies in the world.
Jha would not budge. Motorola’s board faced two options: go with Jha’s recommendation or shut down the mobile phone business altogether.
By a vote of 4 to 3, the board members chose the former. Quickly, Arshad handpicked a team of 200 in-house engineers to work closely with a Google team led by Andy Rubin, who had created the Android system. “They wanted Motorola to be successful and to prove everyone wrong,” says Arshad. “To save the company.”
Save it they did—for a while. The new phone, called the Droid (Verizon licensed the name from movie director George Lucas, who had coined it for Star Wars), hit the market in October 2009. In the Droid’s first few months, through the holiday season, Motorola shipped more of them than Apple shipped iPhones, Jha says. By late 2010, after four years of huge losses, the phone division was profitable again.
New top software engineer Steve Horowitz, who had worked on Google’s original Android team, held strong views on what was wrong with most Android phones. For one thing, most were too customized: Virtually every phone maker and every carrier “skinned” the operating system to give it a branded feel and loaded on their own apps. “I didn’t like that,” says Horowitz. “I knew Android and the code team that built it, and they made really good code. I wanted to go back to pure Android.”
Amen. That part was out of the park. if they could have done better with marketing and the carriers, Google might not have sold.