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Motorola Captures 3 Trends for 2009 in One Device

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As part of a CES related briefing, I was turned on to a product Motorola (s MOT) is pushing that combines a CDMA femotocell with a software-based phone and a digital picture frame. The femotocell will connect with a user’s existing broadband connection and boost cellular coverage in the home. The picture frame shows pictures and also has a video camera embedded in it. For those of you wondering why this hodge podge of functionality exists, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the trends Motorola is trying to address with this Swiss-Army type device.

  1. Femtocells: They were hot last year, and this year they may actually see some widespread deployments as carriers cop to the fact that people want decent cell phone coverage in their homes after dumping their landlines, and that means offloading some of the network traffic onto a DSL or fiber backhaul network makes sense. The Moto version is CDMA, meaning it will work with Verizon (a VZ) and Sprint’s (s S) current 3G networks in the U.S. Other players offering CDMA femotcells are Airvana (which provides the silicon for the Motorola femtoframe) and Samsung.
  2. Design: Last year saw more folks complaining about their ugly routers; now, apparently, the consumer electronics industry is finally taking a page from Apple and trying to gussy up our gadgets. Turning a femotcell into a digital picture frame is one way of making an ugly black box with lots of blinking lights into a slightly less ugly black box that also shows pictures. As devices migrate out of home offices and into the living room near our aesthetically pleasing flat screen TVs, they’d better look better.
  3. User Generated Feedback Goes Beyond the Web: Sure, the web has plenty of ways for users to customize their experiences and offer feedback, but in the coming year, businesses are going to be looking even deeper. In a talk at our NewTeeVee Live event, David Verklin of Canoe Ventures detailed how service providers will use interactive IP communications to make advertising more relevant for consumers, and more lucrative for service providers. With the Motorola frame, a user can voluntarily offer details about their home (such as the number of windows, building material, etc.) to the service provider to help optimize coverage — a less invasive use of interactivity that can still benefit businesses.

Motorola wasn’t able to tell me how much this device will go for or even how much it might cost to make, but Rob Malnati, a senior manager at Motorola, said it would likely be offered through the carriers as part of the current subsidized model for consumer premise equipment. It will be available for trials in the first part of this year. I can’t see Verizon or Sprint choosing to offer something like this if it costs a lot more for them. On the other hand, I might pay a slight premium for one less box of blinking lights on my desktop.

8 Responses to “Motorola Captures 3 Trends for 2009 in One Device”

  1. Stacey Higginbotham

    Niraj, i think combining gadgets can make things more stylish, simply because even a nice looking router can look like clutter next to a well designed femtocell, next to a pretty backup drive, next to a cable modem, etc. However, you are spot on that combining functions can lead to usability challenges.

    And perhaps I just want to live in the same world where they shoot the pottery barn catalog photos where a sleek notebook is the only computing device in sight, rather than having enough blinking LEDs to read by when the lights of my office are turned off :)

  2. I don’t think combining devices is the way to go in making gadgets more stylish, and I’d guess there’ll be a premium attached to this for the sheer “style” factor. Linksys has the right idea with their design of the WRT54G2 router in that the gadgets themselves can be made more appealing without increasing the cost by much, if at all.

    With the combined gadgets, there’s also more chance of problems with usability and intuitiveness.

  3. This is a sure sign that they think they have a good product on their hands that scored well with the marketing studies, but they were not able to get their costs under control and this thing will be ridiculously expensive, ergo no one will buy it and the concept will be dead in 4 months.

    “Motorola wasn’t able to tell me how much this device will go for or even how much it might cost to make, but Rob Malnati, a senior manager at Motorola, said it would likely be offered through the carriers as part of the current subsidized model for consumer premise equipment.”

    Motorola sold off their factories under the conventional wisdom that outsourcing would save them money. The reality is that they lost the ability to apply six sigma and institute cost containment strategies and much more at the factory level. Plus, they are flat out terrible at negotiating good prices from their suppliers in China. Don’t expect to see this on the shelves at Verizon Wireless anytime soon.