Monday, October 3, 2005


From Ron May's The May Report. If you want tech news & gossip out of Chicago, check out Ron's newsletter. He's has an interesting background story on the development Motorola's RAZR:

The development of the RAZR was done by ONE engineer and his team and it was initially REJECTED by Motorola executives, so the engineer went around the company ON HIS OWN and used an ODE (Outsourced Design and Engineering) firm in Shen Zhen China (they generally used Benq, but for this he used his own resources) and then he came back with the design which he then pushed a second time.

That's the real story and all the talk now about how ingenious the company was, about how the RAZR was a part of some grand plan, about the two icons, about the processes in the firm that encourage innovation is revisionist history -- and I might add revisionist credit-taking -- and an attempt by Motorola to take an entirely unexpected success --- they had initially expected to sell only 2 million units of RAZR --- and recast it as part of a grand scheme. The PEBL, also known as the "Bean" is Motorola's attempt to convince people that RAZR represents a transformation in how the firm works. Why was RAZR rejected initially by Motorola executives? My information is that it was rejected because it lacks functionality and features. It is strong on design, but weak on features. In design parlance, it was form over function, and that is antithetical to what Motorola has stood for over the last seventy five years.

Jim Wicks' argument in his talk was that Motorola is undergoing a cultural shift, but a 75 year old engineering firm that has always focused on the primacy of engineering does not turn around on a dime. Becoming the hip consumer products firm may be an ideal now, but it has not been the focus. It seems to me to be an afterthought, AFTER the success of the RAZR. Further evidence that the story Motorola is now telling is revisionist history is that Zander and others were not really talking up RAZR even a year or more ago. What is more, Motorola was considering selling off its entire handset business before RAZR came along. Which came first, cultural change or the RAZR? Which came first, the engineering with the thin chip or the design of thin? Which came first, consumer oriented products

Not one word about RAZR in any of Ed Zander's discussion with the analysts in July of 2004. Granted, RAZR was introduced in October 2004, but if this was going to be the mother of all icons, you would think that he would have at least hinted about it. In fact, back then the mantra was "seamless mobility" --- remember that gem? I focus on this because even the word "Icon" has only come into use very recently. I see not one reference to the term prior to the Wicks talk and the article quoting Roger Jellicoe, all on September 12th and 13th of this year, just two weeks ago!
As some background to the story, all the major handset manufacturers from Motorola to Siemens to Phillips outsource the design and development of cell phones to ODM and ODE (Original Design Manufacturers and Original Design and Enginnering)firms. These are often small companies, but not always. They are almost all in China, Taiwan and South Korea, but not much in Korea anymore because they got swept up by Samsung there. There are a few left in Europe but their activities have fallen off a lot. Everyone except Samsung and LG use these ODE and ODM firms. Flextronics and Benq are some of the bigger firms that Motorola and others outsource to. Benq will do the design of the handset and will manufacture it. If they use a smaller firm like Microcell, Microcell will do the design, but not the manufacturing.

Motorola would routinely visit these firms to keep them apprised of the product road map. They do it under NDA so that the companies can develop the technology to respond to bids for new products. Let's say Motorola wants push to talk, a color screen and an integrated digital video camera. They put that out for bid and they need the ODMs and ODEs to be able to act quickly. Motorola will give them a general idea where they are going, but won't be overly specific.

We all know that Motorola was not doing well until the RAZR arrived.

The RAZR never appeared on any product road map that Motorola was showing the ODMs and ODEs. No one at Motorola knew it was coming. That is my information, at any rate. There was one engineering team leader who came up with the idea of the RAZR. He showed it to the directors of the handset division. They said it was garbage because its functionality was limited.

Everyone at Motorola is now taking credit for the idea of form over function when it was really one guy and his team.
(full post)

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