Earlier today, Motorola announced it was selling Good Technology, the wireless email software division it bought for $400 million only 2 years ago, to Visto technologies, the leader in enterprise push email.
This move signals the end of Motorola’s (s MOT) attempt to build a business-specific phone to compete with RIM’s Blackberry (RIMM) and Palm (s PALM). To some, this is an admission of failure, a sign the company is down for good, but I think a renewed focus on media features, good design, and a new OS could propel Motorola back to a respectable position.
Good Technology’s software, also used by Palm and Nokia (s NOK), was supposed to juice Moto’s business ambitions. But bad UI design, lack of innovations, and a market quickly moving from enterprise phones to media-focused options made the venture fall. When the economy plunged, Motorola looked to split into two, and reported massive losses.
Its business phones were not bad — both the MC35 and the Q had fine features, like fast data syncing and EVDO connection for adequate browsing — but they never had the reliable simplicity of the BlackBerry or the app set of the Palm phones. By focusing on the business side, Motorola forgot how it first became successful: with attractive media-based phones. The company sold 50 million RAZRs, thanks to its light weight, sexiness, and Bluetooth compatibility. For many, the RAZR was the first camera phone they used consistently.
Delving into business enterprise became a worse idea when the iPhone proved it could bring complex web apps to mainstream portables. Suddenly, web mail was easily accessible and businesses started trusting them. Yes, the increasingly robust security of popular media phones cut into the BlackBerry and Palm but they maintained their lead by integrating the popular consumer-based web apps.
In the last few years, Motorola’s dismally uninspired non-business offerings paled in comparison to the competition’s feature for feature and failed to modernize the brand. The Ve20 and the Z10 looked and performed like clones of old phones, and halfhearted attempts at new tech (like touch interfaces) were glitchy and embarrassing.
If Motorola wants to survive, it needs to humble itself to play the part of the “hardware pipe.” It’s become obvious that the content flowing through that pipe will be managed by a quality OS, from Android to Microsoft’s new WinMo. Motorola said today that is exactly what it will do.
Now, it will be up to the consumers to decide if they want Motorola back.