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back to article What killed Motorola? Not Google! It was Moto's dire software

The Motorola we used to know is dead. After it was split in two, Google bought phone maker Motorola Mobility in May this year, leaving the profitable equipment biz Motorola Solutions to live on. Then the ad giant decided to lay off 20 per cent of the Moto Mobility workforce. Although this was all relatively sudden, the fall of …

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I was waiting most of this year for the Atrix to get updated to ICS. The release date kept on slipping until quietly, at the end of September, Motorola announced it would stay on Gingerbread. Motorola are now infamous for poor updates on existing phones, something which is going to be a real problem for Android going forwards as new flagship models are now launched less than a year apart, as are new versions of Android, when most people have 18-24 month contracts on phones that the manufacturer doesn't update as it's not in their interests to. Even on a SIM only deal, I don't want to upgrade every 6 months to get a modern version of Android :/

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FAIL

Gingerbread? Luxury! My Motorola Flipout still runs flipping *eclair*.

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Devil

Better the devil you know;

My RAZR has been shit since I "upgraded" to ICS; regularly slows to toffee, takes forever (up to 5 mins) to recover from being plugged in as a USB mass storage device and regularly hard reboots itself. It's getting traded asap.

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Mushroom

I'll tell you what killed Moto...

...crappy hardware.

I have had 3 Motorola Droid phones in the last 12 months. Number 3 is about to back as well, and have had it only about 3 weeks.

First one wouldn't even get a data connection until 3 major software updates to it. Had it nearly a year before it worked as it was advertised. Worked fine after the final update...for about a month. Then it started rebooting every 10-15 minutes throughout the day.

Number two lasted about a month, until it decided to not connect to any cell or data signals. Every time I tried to use the phone for either a call or data connection, the connection(s) would drop immediately.

Number three worked fine for about 3 weeks. Now it freezes occasionally, and reboots itself without warning several times a day.

I have this phone for business, otherwise I wouldn't have it. Starting to rethink that seriously, and go back to my reliable LG envTouch "stupid-phone"...which has never lost a cell or data signal in the years I have had it. Problem is it is 3g, and I really wanted 4g, but a reliable 3g is better than an unreliable 4g connection any day.

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Mushroom

Re: I'll tell you what killed Moto...

...internal politics.

I'll tell you what killed Moto - internal politics based on empire building and avoiding blame. It created an upside-down world. For example,

And whenever something ran badly more developers were thrown at the software

So, when something ran badly, more people were added to someone's empire. In upside-down world, failure is rewarded!

And more:

...the teams were internationally distributed. If, for instance, a programmer in Bangalore wanted to know how to use the left or right soft key he’d have to send an email to his supervisor who would then email the person who liaised with user interface team in Chicago who would then email the person in Chicago who understood who wrote which bit of the spec who could then email the UI designer.

These are all empires that cannot be disbanded. It also served the purpose of having so many people involved that you couldn't assign blame.

In 2003, Motorola spun off their semiconductor division. Only a very small handful of people knew this was coming. This spinoff was such a closely guarded secret that it shocked the empire builders, who started tightening their grip on information. Information sharing between departments became a game of hold 'em poker. Internal cooperation moved like molasses. The rest is history.

Motorola SPS, later Freescale, has the same problems. Their top P.R. people were hired from the Bill Clinton Presidential campaign, who still talk to highly intelligent technology journalists as making a campaign speech. No thanks to politics, Freescale is surviving but may go the way of Motorola.

Bye-bye.

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My mum loved her razr

She still goes on about how ti was the best phone. But i suspect she liked it as it was pink.....

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Unhappy

Re: My mum loved her razr

Nah, the 'real' RAZR and CRZR phones were ace; I had two RAZR V3s & one KRZR. Loved 'em. Won't dream of going near the new so-called RAZR though. The originals were marvels of industrial design; laser-cut keypad (was it tungsten / magnesium? I forget), aircraft-grade aluminium body, really thin. Still a lovely-looking phone by today's standards. The OS was crap, it's true. Now I have an iPhone 4 (sigh)...

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Re: My mum loved her razr

Got to agree, had the original RAZR and the hardware was gorgeous, but after the contract expired I vowed never to have Motorola software again.

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Silver badge

Re: My mum loved her razr

My Wife still has hers. Keep suggesting she upgrade, but she loves it. I have to say as a piece of industrial art it knocks even the iPhone into a cocked hat.

The mystery is why they didn't keep the design and just improve the innards and UI

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Re: My mum loved her razr

I still have two - both operational but possibly in need of some spares like new batteries..

I *love* that hardware design, apart from the shiny keyboard is has really PERFECT dimensions and functionality. It's so good that you can forgive the screaming agony of the UI inside - I only use the address book on them anyway (the v3i remains my "incoming emergency calls" phone because it fits everywhere and has a battery life that is measured in days, not in hours).

If I had the dosh I'd try to buy the design and have some Chinese reproduce it. If Motorola no longer wants it there must be a way to get hold of it..

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Re: My mum loved her razr

Still use my RAZR V3. I had to hack it to load the factory software. The Moto software is only bad, the hacked up v1.0 crap the telco used and never updated was total crap.

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Anonymous Coward

i can remember when i was a symbian employee, some big-wig from motorola (blonde chick, can't recall her name) attended a meeting in london with all symbian employees present where she basically said "we really, really need your help". I'm trying to think of mororola's code name... Which river was it?

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Anonymous Coward

hudson i think. Did they ever get past 9.1?

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seeing a customer beg to be saved from themself, like Brundlefly "help me....please help me!". And I think she got some real goodwill from the Symbian grunts for that, but to no avail - within months Moto switched focus again and flushed not just more money but crucially time down the pan...

Partners like Moto used to suspect Nokia of deep skullduggery in Symbian but generally they got their own way not through dark arts but just be being halfway competent. Little things, like actually responding to requests for comments on a design instead of always being too busy. One-eyed as they were, Nokia were king in the days of blind competitors...

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Blonde chick was Tracey Koziol.

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that Synergy shot

OMG, my Samsung settings page looks eerily similar to that Synergy screenshot.

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Headmaster

Correction on Moto badges

Get 10 patents and you got a gold badge. Get 25 and you got a platinum badge. In addition to that, there are/were awards for (a) coming up with an idea (even if it wasn't deemed patentable), (b) the "coming up with an idea" award morphed into getting a PURSUE decision in the patent committees, (c) getting a patent filed, (d) getting a patent granted. When a pursue decision was awarded, it was stuck on a prioritised backlog for the lawyers to process.

(a) and (b) were $150, (c) was (I think) $1500, and (d) was $750 or thereabouts. Each inventor would get this amount (unless there were more than 3, in which case 3x amount was divided between them).

This system was common between handsets and networks. The Moto (Networks) Swindon site had somewhere between 5 and 10 gold badges and one platinum wandering round in it - now all of them except one (that I can think of) work elsewhere. I got the boot with enough on the queue to get me a gold badge, but you only got it when the patents were granted :-(

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Re: Correction on Moto badges

(c) was $1500; I had a patent filed through Motorola.

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Anonymous Coward

Memories

I worked at Motorola for 5 years, and my overwhelming recollection is of the enormous, suffocating bureaucracy. It was very successful at preventing anything worthwhile from happening, and making what did happen take far too long and cost way too much. Further, it never seemed like a single unified organisation with a common guiding purpose.

I was convinced at the time that Scott Adams (creator of the Dilbert cartoon) must have worked at Motorola.

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Re: Memories

He was at Pacific Bell, but it was often scary that a "new corporate initiative" rolled out by whichever executive in Chicago Towers often had either a swift follow up in a Dilbert cartoon or, worse, was predicted the week before (perhaps this is where these initiatives were coming from, even?). The sneaking suspicion was that Mr Adams was being fed rumour by someone up high.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm, many parallels to Nokia and RIM in there..

Committing suicide in similar fashions...

All that turmoil, and yet the world now DOES have a open and scalable multi-platform OS, it's called Android and works everywhere and on anything.

It's only taken 20 years to get here, and has Nokia and RIM taken this route, would be part of the game, rather than sitting on the sidelines fighting over the scraps.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm, many parallels to Nokia and RIM in there..

Tedious anonymous google shill is tedious. Competing OSs are what's needed to encourage innovation and give consumers choice, not 100 different android handsets (most of which run out of date versions of the OS that have been creatively hacked by manufacturers to include all kinds of bloatware crap).

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Big Brother

Re: Hmm, many parallels to Nokia and RIM in there..

Android is NOT truly "open". It's a Google product designed with lots of insidious Google lock-in.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm, many parallels to Nokia and RIM in there..

https://android.googlesource.com/platform/manifest.git/+/refs/heads/android-4.2_r1

It's truly open. You can download this, built it and run it on whatever hardware you wish. It will be binary compatible with any existing Android application.

Sure if you want to have access to the Google Play store, it has to be a Google approved device, but that's still a million times more open than another other OS.....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm, many parallels to Nokia and RIM in there..

Well I can go to a warez site and download Windows 8, that dosn't make it "truly open". The fact that every mobile hadset maker, apart from Google, that uses Android is paying Microsoft a license to use Android shows "open" is pure Google PR BS. Then of course you still need Googles permission to release any Android phone and they get to decide what you can and cannot have included. Want to make a phone with BING as the default serch engine? Good like getting Google to allow you on their supposedly "open" OS.

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Unhappy

After the Star-TAC ...

After they built the Star-TAC, the only way was down.

I'm not saying that it was the best ever Motorola phone, nor that phones haven't advenced very much further. Just that when you realize something out of "Star Trek", that the TV series thought couldn't be attained for a few centuries yet, you've reached the top.

My mother finds most mobiles too small and fiddly for her ageing hands and eyes. She'd love a Star-TAC (same size, much the same user interface, modern cellular tech inside).

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Thumb Up

Re: After the Star-TAC ...

I had a StarTac. Lovely hardware.. but terrible software. Doing anything at all on it was a complete pain, whereas on my clunky work Nokia it was all beautifully simple.

I didn't buy another Motorola until the Milestone came out which I replaced with the RAZR XT910. Again, lovely hardware but (as another commenter has said) lousy updates. So the problem hasn't gone away.

A few months ago I did acquire an A1000. Guess what - nice hardware (3G, GPS, touchscreen and that was 3 years before the iPhone) but the user interface let it down. The Nokia 7710 was around at roughly the same time, and that was the other way round with a nice UI but crippled hardware.

So yes.. I'd say this story is pretty accurate!

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FAIL

Razor software

I ran into the guy who (headed the team that) wrote the software for the Motorola Razor family of phones. Embarrassingly, I only found this out after ranting to him about how crap the software on Motorola phones was, using my PEBL as a prime example --- but he was totally fine with it: he agreed.

What apparently happened is that his team were contractors implementing the spec that Motorola had sent them. They *knew* the UI design was terrible and kept submitting bugs, more or less on a daily basis, saying that the design was faulty.

The only response they ever got back was 'implement specification as designed'. There was absolutely no interest in feedback or any kind of usability improvements.

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Re: Razor software

I suspect part of this was the overwhelming desire by Ed Zander to keep making new RAZR phones as he saw them as his golden ticket (IMHO) - he took over as CEO just before the product announcement and tried to showcase it as his great success, even though he had little to go with the "last gasp of the Galvins". The RAZR was held as the shining light of success, with the fate of the company wagered on it - internal targets had it being used as an enabler for increasing from the then ~10% handset market share to 19% and beyond, with Ron Garriques (he of the "release a different coloured case" fame, who then moved to Dell to trigger the same phenomena) tasked with overtaking Nokia's share (which then stood at around 30%). How things change, eh?

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FAIL

Re: Razor software

The PEBL *hardware* was beautiful. Felt nice in the hand, solid and well-made; small but supremely readable primary screen, a crisp OLED on the back for time and status notifications; the magnetic latch and the spring-action lid where positive and satisfying. The battery life was superb --- I'd charge it once a week --- and I had no complaints about voice quality.

That just made the terrible, terrible UI even more irritating, particularly since I'd just upgraded from a 6310i. I kept thinking, if only Nokia had written the software...

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Happy

Re: Razor software

Everyone I gave my PEBL to dropped it the first time they tried to open it. Still worked, though.

I only stopped using it last year when the swap to contracting opened up the opportunity to claim the VAT back on a hot-off-the-press Galaxy Nexus.

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Happy

"... leaving the profitable equipment biz Motorola Solutions to live on ..."

This part of Motorola is doing very nicely, thank you, with Tetra/PS25 systems spreading throughout the Far East.

A Chinese outfit now has Tetra compatible cell-style handsets and two-way radio style units that are not only way smaller than Moto handhelds but also way, way cheaper.

Still, over-priced Tetra trunking systems will the cash flowing for the short-term.

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Pint

Re: "... leaving the profitable equipment biz Motorola Solutions to live on ..."

I'm glad it's still generating cash - it's propping up my pension in doing so.

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Silver badge

Iridium

The name comes from the element Iridium, which has an atomic weight of 77. This was the expected number of birds to form the satellite constellation, launched between 1997 and 1998, but in the end 11 fewer were needed.

Just as well really, as Dysprosium (atomic weight 66) doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Would have made it sound more like an indigestion-cure. That said, given how hard some of the products were to stomach then I guess it may ironically have been more accurate.

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Headmaster

Re: Iridium

which has an atomic weight of 77

It has an atomic number of 77.

Its atomic mass is 192.217

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I used to be a Test Engineer working on handsets for Motorola, so thanks for that horrific little wander down memory lane.

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Alien

Iridium: would you believe atomic number 77? A satellite network based upon atomic weights would be fractionally interesting though.

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Meh

Too much open rubbish...

I read some of the article and thought... this is another company that close their doors for anyone to interupt their development flow. Produced some really neat software/hardware integrated phones (the original RAZR V3 being a prime example - wasn't perfect, but the UI was much better than anything at the time) and then opened the flood gates with other OS options. This caused a lack of direction and boom. Same fate as Nokia. If they'd stuck to ripping the good bits (UI wise) and rewrite the code as a new platform, they still of been around.

Shame more didn't take from Apple's book and learn that you have to cut the crap and concentrate on a few things well.

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Trollface

Oh, that's stirred some memories up...

For my sins (which were clearly manifold) I spent an extended period working for The Handset Vendor Formerly Known As Sendo in Birmingham as a contractor working on the Z8 (and later Z10). After an earlier brush with Mororola (actually Metrowerks, who had been acquired by Motorola's semiconductor division), and the odd glancimg contact while working at Symbian I really should have known better...

What I remember as the defining characteristic of Motorola was the vicious, corrosive level of internal competition and associated empire building with divisions, sites, and even teams continuously manoeuvring to either gain control of or simply sabotage products or technologies percieved as a potential threat.

In Birmingham we perceived ourselves as a sort of "Skunk Works" operation flying under the radar and outside the control of the lumbering, process heavy, politically out of control Mothership while taking advantage of its resources and external clout to deliver a replacement for the iconic but flagging, increasingly out of date Razr and it's ridulously named Pebl cousin in the form of the Z8 Motorizr (what was that about ridiculous names). It all seemed to be going quite well until a delayed launch (meaning no handsets in shops when a major media campaign ran), a (with hindsight) embarassing level of bugs in early SW releases, and the launch of the iPhone. Everybody *loved* the "kick slider" form factor and associated mechanics though and that meant we were doomed as we became increasingly visible within the Motorola organisation. Shortly after the Z8 launched a sizeable deputation turned up from France (Toulouse IIRC) "to learn about the platform and evaluate it for use in other products", a little while after that I found myself training a group of French engineers on the toolchain and codebase "to provide support and additional resource", then, somewhat to my surprise I found myself being managed from Toulouse, followed in fairly short order by the closure of the Birmingham site.

I have amusing memories of being confused with a TTPCom employee who shared a name with me. Since I'd previously done a stint with TTP in Melbourn opportunities for confusion abounded, this continued after the demise of the Birmingham site when I turned up at Airvana in Cambridge along with a numbef of former TTPCom staff...

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Anonymous Coward

motorola killed ajar and ttpcom

I worked for TTPCOM in Cambridge before and after Moto took over, it was a systematic destruction of a company that had many talented individuals with a lot to offer. Such a shame that a good british company was destroyed by an american one.

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Mushroom

What killed Motorola?

I'm hoping it was those irritating adverts. "Hello Moto. Play, play, I wanna play some games..."

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RAZR V3

I remember getting mine in the post, loving the design of the handset and then being completely underwhelmed when I powered it up and started using the thing. The OS was slow, looked dreadful and felt rather out of date. Even at the time.

Although the next phone I had was the Nokia N70, and the V3 p***ed all over that Finland Steamer from a great height.

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Anonymous Coward

Shame.....

I was at Sendo, TUPE'd across to Moto, and then eventually made redundant a few years later, having worked on Z8 & Z10.

I recall staring aghast at the marvel that was the Clearcase version tree for one of the pieces of P2K code, and wondering just who the hell had been "in charge" of allowing that branching. I didn't envy the configuration managers....

I hope what is now Mobility recovers some of it's grandeur and status - it was a great place to be, even with it's flaws....

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Anonymous Coward

KRZR

That little phone seemed to get a bad reputation though it was a really beautiful and elegant hardware design. But I couldn't get its bluetooth to pair with my UK Lexus. I ended up using the information on one of the hacking sites to install some spanish or south american firmware version and that worked very well. But a very finicky business, having to solder strands of wire to the internal header and build a pc serial interface!. So much easier now, rooting an Android phone... And indeed my Xoom is also really nice, and running Jelly Bean, though I gather it's now end of life. I haven't seen anything better to replace it.

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WTF?

UIQ, Warrington based?!

"Motorola bought Warrington-Based UIQ Technology, which layered a graphical user interface over Symbian"

Point of information, UIQ were based in Ronneby in Sweden: Warrington, on the other hand, was where most of the SE software platform work for Symbian devices was conducted (Kista in Sweden being where the hardware work was done). I should know, I worked there from 2001 until they shut it down in 2009.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: UIQ, Warrington based?!

Some sort of misunderstanding has happened here. I've tweaked the article. Thanks.

C.

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Thumb Up

It's karma...

Motorola screwed over Psion, effectively killing them. Now Google are screwing over Motorola. Karma's a bitch...

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Flame

What do Motorola phones and Nortel have in common?

Mike Zafirowski. Seems the skills he took to Nortel were those from his time at Motorola rather than from his time at GE (though I haven't heard of GE wanting him back, so read into that what you will).

Anyway. My mum got a SLVR a few phones back. It was awful. Compared to my lovely SEk750i it had a barely readable screen, awful camera and a horrific UI. (then she got a Nokia 6600 Classic that was only better in that it had a better screen and camera, now she has a Galaxy Ace II on Gingerbread, which I can best describe as "usable". I don't know if it's worth upgrading the phone to a newer Android version, but everything seems to be better on my iPhone 3G with iOS 4, plus I never really had any fear of upgrading my iPhone OS (for all its faults, iTunes synced everything nicely and my mail and calenders were replicated on my mac and could be redownloaded at will, Kies seems not to work on the parental XP laptop (closes after displaying a .Net-style error message when run!)))

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Re: What do Motorola phones and Nortel have in common?

Kies?

That's your problem right there. Horrific shite, as bloated as iTunes, and Samsung insist on using it to provide firmware updates.

You may have a couple of other unofficial options though. Personally, back when I had a Sammy device, I installed, updated, then uninstalled pretty damned quick. At least Kies uninstalls nicely, unlike a certain fruity piece of software that tries its damndest to insinuate itself into parts of your system that it has no rights to be in.

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Ah yeah...

That'd be Christy Wyatt with a leg in plaster iirc :)

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