Motorola Mobility is operating in uncertain times. As the manufacturer launches its latest flagship device, the RAZR i, its parent company Google continues to slash Motorola jobs globally, with the latest casualties including a third of the UK’s marketing team.
The irony of these latest job cuts is not lost on analysts who question the wisdom of cutting the team in the midst of one of its biggest campaigns to date – launching the Motorola RAZR i. They query how it can sustain market confidence without stronger backing from its parent. Google’s purchase of Motorola last year was seen by some observers as nothing more than a tactical move to gain access to Motorola’s huge patent library, rather than its manufacturing business. Some analysts say the current jobs cull at Motorola Mobility is further evidence of that strategy.
Google back up
IDC telecoms analyst Francisco Jeronimo says: ‘Motorola Mobility has so far had no strong backup from Google. The problem for Google is that if it invests a lot in Motorola it risks being seen as a direct competitor by other Android manufacturers who could then start supporting rival operating systems.’
Others disagree, believing the cuts are necessary to make Motorola more competitive. Strategy Analytics director Neil Mawston says: ‘Everyone on the supply side knows Motorola is massively overstaffed and so these cuts are unavoidable as part of a process to make Motorola competitive. Once that has been completed Google will start putting money into it.’ Motorola Mobility UK chief Andrew Morley points to the current high-profile marketing campaign as evidence of Google’s confidence in Motorola’s devices. He says: ‘This is the biggest campaign yet – it’s huge – a really extensive multi-million pound campaign that is promoting what is certainly our most significant launch this year, and for a long time.’
He adds: ‘Our investment behind this device sends a clear message. Part of our strategy going forward is supporting big product launches with sizeable campaigns. The size of the investment behind this campaign gives a clear signal to the UK market of our commitment.’
But is it enough? Analysts question Motorola’s ability to make its devices really stand out in the UK’s highly competitive market.Jeronimo says: ‘Why would consumers buy this above an HTC or Sony phone? It’s a good phone but it isn’t that cheap, and Motorola is not a strong brand in the UK anymore. Why would operators support it over stronger brands?’
Mawston agrees: ‘The RAZR i is one of a number of second-tier devices desperately competing with HTC, Nokia, Sony and LG for the leftovers, and it appears that it is not doing that well, based on early channel checks.’
Morley argues Motorola’s partnership with Intel is one way the manufacturer’s devices will stand out. He points to Intel’s decision to choose Motorola to produce the Motorola RAZR i smartphone – effectively Intel’s flagship Android phone – as a huge vote of confidence.
‘This is our first major brand partnership with Intel and obviously we will use this as a stepping stone to even better things. This is a multi-device, multi-year partnership with Intel and so the RAZR i is just the first product of that relationship, with much more to come,’ he says.
The Intel processor has also allowed Motorola to develop a smaller phone with room for a more powerful battery, which Morley says is gaining traction with operators. He points to how the RAZR i is being ranged by all UK operators bar Vodafone, adding: ‘We are finding that operators are getting increasingly keen on battery life because, while consumers are not using data and not downloading files they are not using the operator’s network. So now, one of the first questions carriers ask is, “how long does the battery last?”’
Morley says consumers have also responded very positively to the Intel branding on the RAZR i. ‘Market research shows that having the Intel brand on the back of the phone increases consumer preference for the device. It brings a very positive response in terms of power and performance and their familiarity with the brand.’
Observers agree Motorola is benefiting from its partnership with Intel, not least in terms of additional funding for the RAZR i’s marketing campaign. But will it be enough to get Motorola Mobility back in the game in the UK as a major player?
Analysts say not. They believe Google needs to clarify its strategy if Motorola Mobility is to start gaining traction. Others believe Google could even pull Motorola out of the UK and wider European market, if its fortunes do not improve. Jeronimo says: ‘Motorola is already focusing on fewer countries. It is already pulling out of Spain so I wouldn’t be surprised, if things don’t improve in a year or so, if Google started asking whether it is really worth the investment.’
Editor: Carol Millett