We knew it was coming, and today it begins: Google is finally starting to put its stamp on Motorola Mobility.
The first steps in the Motorola makeover are somewhat bittersweet: Google revealed this morning it'd cut 4,000 jobs from Motorola's existing workforce in order to better focus the company on "innovative and profitable" high-end devices. It's likely the first of many changes we'll see following Google's acquisition of Motorola earlier this year.
As Motorola's new focus falls into place, I thought it'd be a good time to look at what helps certain Android manufacturers succeed while others struggle. Samsung is dominating the smartphone market, eclipsing other phone-makers both within Android and beyond -- so what's it doing that everyone else isn't?
The truth is that Samsung's Galaxy S III isn't insanely better than HTC's One X -- the two phones are pretty equally matched, and in many respects, the One X actually has the upper edge -- yet the GSIII is selling like hotcakes while HTC is watching its profits plummet.
So what lessons can Motorola take from Samsung's success? Creating quality products with enticing designs is a given; HTC has done that as much as anyone and still isn't thriving. Here, then, are the secret ingredients Samsung is using that other Android manufacturers haven't figured out. Listen closely, Motorola.
It may seem obvious, but if you make one high-end product your primary focus, it's going to have a better chance of standing out from the pack and succeeding. Samsung certainly makes a lot of phones beyond the Galaxy S III -- it had somewhere around 94 gazillion different models, last I counted -- but none of them gets anywhere near the level of love and attention the flagship GSIII phone receives.
Even before the Google acquisition, Motorola said it was going to stop flooding the market with new devices every other week and focus instead on a small group of "core" products. Its then-CEO made that declaration last January; Motorola then proceeded to launch a whopping 27 devices over the course of 2011. Something doesn't add up.
New Google-migrated CEO Dennis Woodside seems set on actually living up to the company's previous promise: Woodside says he intends to ship only a few key products per year, making sure each one pops for its standout hardware features.
That's focus. But that's only a third of the battle.
You know what really sets the Galaxy S III apart from the One X? The fact that you can find it almost anywhere you look.
Samsung's managed to get its flagship device on all the major U.S. carriers, and that's an enormous win. The notion of carrier-exclusive smartphones is both dated and dumb; it benefits the carriers while limiting choice for consumers -- and limiting potential for manufacturers, too. As mobile technology grows increasingly advanced and important to our lives, this sort of one-sided arrangement looks increasingly ridiculous.
The One X may be a damn fine phone, but if someone isn't on AT&T in the U.S., it isn't an option. And that kills an awful lot of its opportunity for success. Ubiquity and focus go hand in hand: If you make a single high-end device your priority, you're going to do everything you can to make sure everyone can get it.
This last ingredient may be the biggest of all -- and for whatever reason, it's one Android-focused companies have by and large failed to grasp.
I'm talking about marketing. If there's one area in which Apple consistently excels (well, nearly all of the time), this is it: From its lavish and secretive "special events" to its massive (and massively effective) ad campaigns, there's no denying the iGang's success in this realm.
Why do you think so many people -- consumers and tech writers alike -- religiously repeat phrases like "magical," "revolutionary," and "it just works"? Those are all key marketing phrases Apple's worked hard to hammer home, both in ads and in presentations. Now, countless people chant them as mantras without even realizing they're regurgitating carefully constructed marketing messages. In reality, Apple stuff often doesn't "just work" -- but at this point, that's almost irrelevant.
With its Galaxy S III launch, Samsung strived for a similar sort of controlled impression. From prelaunch buzz to a lavish launch event and Olympic-sized promotional push, Samsung has done everything it can to make sure its phone is seen as the hot new device to own right now. And by most appearances, its efforts have paid off. Do you really think, for example, that every non-Android-focused tech writer legitimately concluded the Galaxy S III was hands-down the best Android phone available -- no ifs, ands, or buts about it? Probably not. But they sure as hell thought that's what they were supposed to think. And that's what solid marketing can do.
From the marketing itself to the mainstream media coverage it influences, Samsung has molded public perception of its product in a way no Android device has done since the original Motorola Droid. The company's message is everywhere. That makes all the difference in the world.
Put it all together...
When you combine these three ingredients -- focus, ubiquity, and marketing -- you've got a recipe for success. These three things are what set Samsung's Galaxy S III apart from other equally impressive phones like the HTC One X. It's not just the technology; it's how it's presented.
If Motorola can achieve the kind of focus, ubiquity, and marketing Samsung has delivered -- while putting out the kind of top-notch smartphone experiences it's perfectly capable of providing -- there's no reason it can't match or even surpass Samsung's level of success. Heck, maybe our friends at HTC can watch what happens and learn a thing or two as well.
In the end, Android is all about choice and diversity, and healthy competition among multiple manufacturers is a key part of that equation. I'm optimistic Motorola can re-establish itself as a prominent player in the game -- and that other skilled but struggling device-makers can follow its lead.
Your move, Motorola.