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How can Moto get its mojo back?

Remember the days when Motorola was king of the mobile world? Back in 2005, its Razr handset was the mobile phone to be seen with, and while Motorola didn’t quite overhaul Nokia for overall sales, it had the wow factor.

Nowadays, Motorola may still be the fourth largest handset maker in the world, but the wow factor is long gone. Why? Two factors: the company didn’t follow up the Razr with another zeitgeist-busting handset, just a succession of same-again products. And second, many of the tens of millions of people who bought the first model jumped ship to other manufacturers when their contracts were up, due to its unfriendly user interface.

Motorola lost its mojo, in short. Can it regain it in the iPhone era? The company has been restructuring in recent months in preparation for a comeback, although specific details are thin on the ground. Here’s what they should do:

Get smart
Motorola missed the smart phone boat first time round, but it should clamber back on now. Reports in recent months suggest it’s focusing a big chunk of its R&D resources on Google’s Android OS, which is sensible.

Smart phones are becoming ever more popular and every mobile operator wants a decent range of (potential) iPhone rivals in their shops. What’s more, focusing on smart phones gives Motorola the best chance of innovating in some of the areas that’ll be outlined below – user interface and applications.

For design, look inwards first
By inwards, I mean the UI. The RAZR was beautiful to look at, but ugly to use. For Motorola to come back strong, it needs to make a handset that’s beautiful to use.

This is where Android is a good choice, and two examples spring to mind. HTC’s Sense UI, and Sony Ericsson’s Rachael. Both are customised interfaces which work on top of Android, and both look – and by all accounts feel – beautiful.

For its comeback, Motorola is hopefully ferreting out some interface designers who can come up with something as startling as that laser-etched keypad was on the Razr.

But also look outwards
Talking of laser-etched keypads, new Motorola smart phones shouldn’t just be about whizzy menu screens. The smart phone pond is ripe for a Razr-style rock to be thrown in, to break up all the touchscreen handsets with roughly the same design.

More NASA-grade metallica? A jet-black exterior that never smudges with fingerprints? Diamonds? Hopefully lightning can strike twice, and Moto can get mobile users dribbling with gadget envy once again.

Don’t worry, be appy
If Apple has proved anything with the iPhone, it’s that apps and services sell phones nowadays just as much as the interface and exterior. When buying a cutting-edge smart phone, people want to know a) what cool apps come with it, and b) that there are lots of cool apps available to download to it too.

Motorola is clearly thinking about the first question right now. This month, it announced a deal with Blockbuster to let people watch movies on unspecified future handsets, while it’s also dabbled in areas like music, games and social networking in recent years – which would all be relevant.

Moto needs to continue along these lines – its next smart phones need to ship with some innovative, kick-arse apps and widgets that will become indispensable to their owners. And while having Android Market for app downloads is good, the company needs to be courting the most innovative iPhone and web developers to ensure it’s in their thoughts.

Oh, and all of this needs to be done pretty quickly, to overtake – or at least avoid falling further behind – its rivals. Five years after the Razr’s success, could 2010 see a Motorola resurgence? Watch this space.
 

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