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Motorola CEO talks about pros and cons of being owned by Google

News   •   Dec 30, 2013 07:41 GMT

Speaking at an interview with JournalGazette, Dennis Woodside, Motorola’s CEO, talked about its smartphones, services, its rivals, and Google’s ownership of Motorola. He also touched the subject of the pros and cons of Google’s ownership.

Here’s the full interview:

Q. A lot of people know Motorola for early cellphones and the Razr line. Today, how would you describe Motorola?

A.Our product is not necessarily the hardware, but the mobile Web. Our mission is to provide access to hundreds of millions of people, if not billions over time, to mobile services.

With Moto G, you’re starting to see the strategy. You have a product that spec for spec does stand up to an iPhone at one-fourth the price.

Q. Why couldn’t Motorola as a stand-alone company move in that direction?

A.Google gives Motorola a couple things. One is that willingness to have a long-term vision that’s bold, and really encouraging us to have that vision, and giving us the capital to make the transition.

You also have to (believe in) the long-run value of having everybody connected on high-quality devices that can access all the services that we’re used to. Only Google has that long-term mindset.

Q. Where does Google end and Motorola begin?

A. Although Google is our shareholder, Motorola is going to operate independently.

Our (technology) systems are separate. That actually imposes costs on us. We’d love to be able to leverage Google’s data centers and internal tools. But because Android is a platform available to all (phone makers), if we had any IT access, that independence could be breached. We get the code for the next-version Android at the same time as everybody else.

Sometimes it’s frustrating, because you actually want to do more.

Q. What’s been the biggest headache in incorporating the two companies?

A.The expectations are really high. You have people at Motorola who expect, now that Google owns us, we’re going to do everything together. You have outsiders who expect a completely different software or hardware strategy because the companies are now together.

Another challenge is more internal. Managing the cultural shift from a company that had been very engineering-led and driven, but not as consumer-led and driven as we want to become.

Q. Even though you can’t get the Android software early from Google, are there things you can get from it?

A.Our approach to communication with consumers is a good example. In our industry, the people who build the products tend not to use social networks. Our product managers are doing that.

The product managers of Google, typically they’re very active in ... direct dialogue with consumers to understand the market and understand people. We’ve done several of these international excursions where we take fairly junior product managers (and) have them literally live with normal people and understand how our consumers are using their devices.

Q. What early signs (are you) seeing in what people are going to be wanting from their smartphones?

A.Phones break. They’re glass. That’s likely to change in the next 24 months, as plastic becomes more present and producible.

You’ll be speaking to (the) phone, asking it to do things, and it will be responding and actually doing what you intend, as opposed to you reading a command line.

Wearables are obviously an area that’s of interest. No one has really come up with the killer-use case that defines what that means and how that works.

Q. Who would you consider your closest competitor?

A.Apple, Samsung. They’ve shown, especially Samsung, that marketing can really create a product and a phenomenon. We’re never going to have the money that they have to market our products.

So, we have to have products that do something a little bit differently, which is what you’re starting to see with Moto G.

You also have a number of Chinese manufacturers that can manufacture at very low cost.

Q. What are some of the impossible dreams that you insist on the people who you manage?

A.If you think of your mission as expanding the market to the billion people who are next to move into the smartphone world, you start looking at the problem very differently. You start thinking about all the issues that that consumer faces.

A simple example is a lot of people don’t know that they could benefit from a smartphone.

How do we explain the benefits of a smartphone from someone who doesn’t have one and whose friends don’t have one? How do you get that first person to think about a smartphone experience?

It’s not an easy problem to solve.

Is it an advantage for Motorola to be owned by Google, or do you think it is a curse? Let us know what you think through a comment below.