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What Motorola needs to do in 2018

by Justin Herrick | January 6, 2018January 6, 2018 1:00 pm PST

Last year went by quietly for Motorola. Nothing really stood out for the company despite a slew of new phones in all different segments debuting. It seemed like the strategy was to flood the market with as much hardware as possible, but that’s what dragged Motorola down years ago. And Lenovo didn’t seem to care much about building the brand around the world. Instead, Motorola just pumped out phone after phone without any heavy advertising. Overall it felt like Motorola just went through 2017 focusing on quantity, not quality.

Every company will have goals for 2018, and these are the ones we recommend Motorola goes all-in on.

Get cozy with Alexa

Digital assistants are still growing fast, and Motorola should capitalize on Alexa’s momentum. Motorola already worked with Amazon to introduce an Alexa-powered Moto Mod for the Moto Z series. Now the company should be bringing integration to all of its devices.

An entire Moto Mod felt a bit extra. There was really no reason to get the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa unless money doesn’t mean anything to you or you’re an Alexa super-fan. If you need Alexa anywhere, just get a portable speaker for less or use the dedicated app. But there’s still a desire for digital assistants on our phones. Just look at Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Alexa, too, deserves to sit alongside them at the front of the pack on mobile devices, and Motorola can greatly help that happen.

People love using Alexa, but they’re not completely aware of what it can do on their phones. Most of them think the Alexa app is merely for setting up an Echo, Echo Dot, or any other compatible device. So this is a prime opportunity for Motorola to elevate the digital assistant.

At first, Google Assistant was an exclusive for the Pixel and Google Home. Then the digital assistant expanded to all Android devices running Marshmallow (6.0) or later. But it’s not the only digital assistant available through the Play Store. Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa also have a presence on Android, the latter of which being the most appealing due to its reach on other platforms. More than 10 million installs have been logged for the Alexa app. That tells you Amazon’s digital assistant isn’t just popular among those with an iPhone. There’s plenty of interest among people with Android devices as well.

Motorola could easily pivot the go-to digital assistant on its phones from Google Assistant to Alexa. While anyone can put the Alexa app on their phone or tablet, the advantage for Motorola would be having it pre-installed. And, frankly, Alexa’s presence is what a ton of consumers are looking for when they buy new stuff these days.

It’s not even hard to do. Amazon wouldn’t mind having Alexa pre-installed on every Moto-branded device. Huawei and HTC have already done so for themselves. The online retailer would probably go as far as promoting Motorola’s products in return.

All that needs to be said is, “Alexa, help us out.”

If Moto Mods can’t be any cheaper, drop them altogether

It wasn’t so long ago when modular designs were thought to be the next hot trend in the mobile industry. Anyone remember Project Ara? Motorola began work on the smartphone before Google assumed control, but even the Mountain View-based company couldn’t figure out how to make modules mainstream. Project Ara has since been canceled, but Motorola still believes in a modular platform of its own. When the Moto Z debuted in 2016, Moto Mods were right by its side.

Moto Mods are a failure. The idea, at first, was ambitious and exciting. Rather than needing to do anything technical to your phone, you just pop a backplate on and unlock additional capabilities. Unfortunately the execution was poor and didn’t deserve another opportunity in 2017.

Above all else, Motorola prices these magnet-friendly accessories on the expensive side. The Moto Mods that got our attention, like the Moto Insta-share Projector and Hasselblad True Zoom Camera, cost more than Motorola’s mid-range phones. The simpler ones, too, are pricey. There’s no reason to spend $80 on the JBL SoundBoost 2 when a portable speaker directly from JBL is priced similarly and produces better sound.

If the prices aren’t less than the non-Moto Mod versions’, consumers have no reason to buy.

Motorola should look around. No one else believes modular designs are where the future is heading, at least not anytime soon. So why does Lenovo allow the company to continue pushing Moto Mods? They’re a bust, and LG learned that with the G5 and never second-guessed itself. Hopefully Motorola doesn’t plan to continue making them for the Moto Z3 in 2018.

Ask carriers for help

Consumers may not like carriers, but they’re who have made Samsung and Apple so successful over the years. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have done their part to bring visibility and affordability to the world’s most popular mobile devices. Motorola was once supported by those carriers, but in recent years it’s been tough for the average consumer to find a place to buy anything with a Moto logo. In 2018, Motorola needs to make calls to carriers and get back into their retail stores and listed online.

With the Moto Z2 Force, Motorola partially fixed this. Its 2017 flagship is available from the four major U.S. carriers. This happened only after the Moto Z in 2016 was a Verizon exclusive for months and then was unchained for sale through select retailers. Even now you can’t find the latest Moto G or Moto E phones from any carrier unless you’re a prepaid customer.

Carrier support is vital for a phone to sell well, whether any of us trust the carriers or not. The vast majority of shoppers aren’t completing their purchases directly through the companies who make their phones nor are they buying at the full retail price. By shopping through carriers, they get a sense of security since that’s who provides their wireless service and offers an approachable payment plans. Consumers, at least in the U.S., are many years away from embracing the unlocked life.

In the year ahead, Motorola has to make sure its next flagship as well as its other phones are sold by carriers.

Strip down the lineup, go back to the basics

Look at Motorola’s site. For a company that doesn’t rank so high in terms of worldwide sales, it sells too many phones. The lineup includes multiple products in the high-end, mid-range, and low-end segments. Unless you’re Samsung or another high-volume brand, you shouldn’t be doing that.

Whatever Google did for Motorola doesn’t matter to Lenovo. The old Motorola was a hot mess. It boasted an oversized lineup and didn’t bother implementing compelling features. In 2012, Google purchased Motorola to keep the brand alive. Motorola’s been around for decades, and Android would’ve received widespread embarrassment for not having any viable alternative to Samsung. The Google-owned Motorola was reset and slowly reintroduced itself with the Moto X in August 2013, the Moto G in November 2013, and the Moto E in May 2014.

Motorola found its groove again under Google’s watch. But the company was handed off to Lenovo in late 2014. The new Chinese parent company threw out Google’s playbook and brought back old habits.

In 2017, Motorola’s near-lethal problem returned. The lineup, as it stands today, is unnecessary for a second-tier brand. Had it stayed on Google’s narrow path, Motorola might’ve become the true Samsung rival we always wanted it to be. That’s not going to happen anything soon, though. Lenovo cares more about quantity than anything else.

Most of the year was crazy-busy, and we’re not talking about the mobile industry alone. Motorola was playing against itself in a sense. The Moto G5 and Moto G5 Plus launched in February, and their releases followed in March. The Moto E4 and Moto E4 Plus popped up in June alongside the Moto Z2 Play. Late in the summer, the Moto Z2 Force was announced. But it didn’t end there. Motorola released the Moto G5S and Moto G5S Plus in the final months of 2017.

In a matter of six months (that felt like two weeks), the company sent out almost ten phones. That’s absurd for anyone. Motorola needs to drop products from its pipeline immediately. We don’t need two members for the Moto G series or the Moto E series. And half-year upgrades certainly weren’t warranted for the Moto G series this year. Ideally the company will do two phones for the Moto Z series and one each for the others.

We’ll love Motorola just the same if it focuses on small number of products and makes them each special in their own way. Not only does the current lineup make keeping track of things difficult for the team at TechnoBuffalo, it confuses consumers while shopping.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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