moto-deadMotorola is the company that literally pioneered mobile communications. Once an industry giant, the handset maker has since fallen on hard times and many (including yours truly) have questioned whether Moto can get its mojo back. They haven’t had a successful new product since the iconic Razor, which launched them on a meteoric rise to success earlier in the decade – in a time when common feature phones (or dumb phones as I like to think of them) ruled the marked. But feature phones gave way to the rise of smartphones, and the big M has been in a free fall ever since.

How this happened is no mystery. Motorola is one of those companies that never seemed to grasp the importance and interplay between software and hardware. Their philosophy, like so many others at the time, was that if you made a sleek shiny phone, consumers would buy it no matter how what software it ran on, or how bad. To that end Motorola phones looked cool, but the software that powered them was anything but. In fact, Motorola’s proprietary mobile platform represented the absolute worst user experience in the industry. Nokia’s Symbian operating system looks like OSX to Motorola’s un-namable and utterly forgettable OS.

As a market slowly built up around smartphones, Motorola continued to limp along with its outdated design philosophy (hardware first, software second – a mere afterthought) and the hemorrhaging began. Moto’s market share began to plummet, and by the time they jumped on board the smartphone bandwagon it was too late. Previously unheard of Taiwanese  handset makers like HTC suddenly became rising stars and household names. And once Apple entered the market, Moto was doomed. While the fat lady may not have sung just yet, she can be heard clearing her throat in the next room.

The last hope for Motorola may be in the form of the Droid phone, set to debut on Verizon’s network. It’s an ambitious device that puts them back in the game with a credible product. But in the end it will take a highly successful and ubiquitous mainstream device to put them on path to success. In short, they need another Razor. And Droid isn’t it. For starters, it is high end device – very good high end Android device, but top tier non-the-less. They company should be aiming down market with an affordable product that everyone covets and can afford – something that runs on Android. Motorola should design an a simple iconic device, perhaps in the form factor of a Blackberry, that has mass appear, and can be had for free (with contract) or under $50. Do this and the chance is high that Motorola will set the market on fire and regain its mojo. As it stands now I see Droid as an ambitious yet futile effort to make inroads in a market they’ve already lost. Will Motorola succeed – what do you think?