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Motorola’s history of tablets shows remarkable ignorance

Daniel Eran Dilger

Motorola, the company that brought the first Android smartphone to the masses in Verizon’s Droid extravaganza last winter, is now hoping to challenge Microsoft’s second attempt at making a first impression with Windows 7 Slate PC by showing off its its own Android 3.0 tablet at next month’s CES.
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Given that CES has long been a failure showcase, this isn’t exactly shocking in and of itself. What is interesting is that in hyping its upcoming tablet, the company has muddled and erased tablet history to suggest that Motorola will be offering the pinnacle of tablet evolution.

Innovation: Apple at Macworld vs Microsoft at CES: 2000-2007
CES: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: 2008
Palm Pre: The Emperor’s New Phone: 2009
Microsoft Courier: the third weak link in a miserable mobile strategy: 2010

Tablets of the ancient world

In a teaser promotional video created in CGI that appears to from the late 90s, Motorola presents a weak description of series of historical tablets. From the beginning, there’s the 10 Commandments, which Motorola says offered “excellent durability.” Holy Moses!

According to the story, Moses threw them down and smashed them to bits on the way down the mountain (after the skygod created them using a touch interface), leaving Moses to recreate his own copy (via another visit up the mountain). He broke them because he was pissed that everyone was having a party while he was up on the mountain with g-o-d. The tablets no longer exist, outside of Motorola’s fake CGI museum, and they also weren’t written in English (nor the Shrek font).

Jumping into more recent tablet history, Motorola says the GRiDPad was intended for inventory but its 20MB hard disk ‘could only hold 12 items.’ Well it ran DOS, so it didn’t really have that much overhead. But Motorola’s memory going forward appears to be even more limited than the GRiDPad.

The inside track on Apple’s tablet: a history of tablet computing

Motorola’s tablet lapse

Where’s Apple’s Newton Message Pad in Motorola’s historical recounting? Motorola should recall it, as the company was a licensee of Apple’s Newton OS. Where is that 1995 Motorola Marco PDA tablet which ran Apple’s Newton OS? Oh yeah, it failed, even more spectacularly than Apple’s own Message Pad. Motorola resurrected the Marco name for a 2007 smartphone, but you’ve never heard of it because it was fully eclipsed by the iPhone.

Newton Lessons for Apple’s New Platform

Motorola also, curiously, seems to have forgotten that it acquired Symbol Technologies in 2007, just as the original iPhone was being announced. Perhaps that $3.9 billion deal didn’t register with the company, or perhaps it would rather forget having purchased a huge supplier of Windows Mobile and Palm OS PDA devices right at the cusp of the iOS era and the implosion of yesterday’s tablet operating systems.

Apple had been using Symbol devices at the time of Motorola’s acquisition of the company, but has since switched its EasyPay retail store program to use the iPod touch outfitted with a bar code scanner and card swiper, and other retailers are now doing the same.

AppleInsider | Retailers building their own iPod touch, iPad POS systems

Hope for the best

Motorola preferred to ignore all the boorish tablet devices it actually makes and take a pot shot at Apple’s iPad, saying it is “only a big iPhone,” as if that’s a bad thing. Imagine being only “a big Android smartphone,” like the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Or Motorola’s Droid X.

Or being so ashamed of your current lineup that you’re forced to make jabs at the most popular new product of the year and the only really successful tablet product ever, without being able to say anything about your own future vaporware apart from hinting that it will run the next version of Android — an unproven new platform that offers little reason to attract iOS developers and users and which won’t benefit from the Verizon marketing push that helped subsidize the sales performance of Droid smartphones.

Google has a lot to deliver in Android 3.0 Honeycomb, as Motorola isn’t the only company betting its future on software from the vendor of 2009′s Wave, 2010′s Google TV, and next year’s uncertain Chrome OS. Motorola has to rely upon Google because the company has had nothing but failure in creating its own variants of Linux and in licensing everything from Newton to Palm OS to Windows Mobile to Symbian.

But hey, a long history of failure doesn’t prove anything.

41 comments

1 vinny { 12.20.10 at 7:59 pm }

Actually, minor issue… Motorola was not the first Android handset to market. HTC’s G1 on T-Mobile was by quite a few months.

2 feral { 12.20.10 at 8:48 pm }

It’s nothing short of hilarious reading these CEO pseudo rants and lame product teaser videos. smoke and mirrors was never a substitute for good magic.
Bring out the actual product. Sell millions then make some claims.
Until then..STFU.

Jan 6 is going to bring even more comedy.

3 ericgen { 12.20.10 at 8:48 pm }

I love it when someone does something absurd and outrageous enough to inspire you to write another column! Motorola might get away with it, if they could back it up. But, as you say, history is not in their favor.

4 _iCeb0x_ { 12.20.10 at 9:15 pm }

Dan,

Nice that you talked about the Symbol Technologies deal. It’s Moto’s workaround for a previous failure you didn’t know or didn’t care to mention.

Disclaimer: I own a business that offers mobility solutions in South America and we sell hardware from Motorola’s Symbol line and better equipment from other manufacturers.

So, “entreprise mobility” is a huge business all over the world. Warehouses, delivery and parcel companies and big retailers need really rugged equipment with integrated barcode scanning capabilities.

One day, Motorola though that it would be nice to enter this market. Having no patents on barcode scanning technology, they had to buy scanning engines from 3rd parties, like Hand Held Products (then part of Welch-Allyn and now assimilated by Honeywell). They developed some heavier, clumsier and expensive equipments, like the HC700, just to try and eat market share from Symbol Technologies.

Ultimately, they failed. And then they bought Symbol and their intellectual property.

If you have enough money, you can fail over and over and still buy the competition.

5 Microphobe { 12.20.10 at 10:49 pm }

Normally, I follow what my mom taught me when she said “If you can’t say anything nice shut up.” But I can’t resist. I just watched the video. Couldn’t believe my eyes! That was awful! I didn’t think it was possible to get any worse than the pungent marketing vomit Microsoft puts out. Motorola just proved me wrong! Maybe I should blame the cheesy speakers on my laptop – but I swear to g-o-d at the end of the video I thought the bee farted… and pooped “CES 2011 Motorola” out of its butt!!! Oh, wait… maybe it did.

6 cy_starkman { 12.20.10 at 10:56 pm }

What was best for me about this article was the ad placement at the bottom. It was for the Telstra T-Touch or whatever. I have used one, it demonstrates everything that is rubbish in a touch device.

7 David Dennis { 12.21.10 at 2:43 am }

You know, I actually think it was a nice commercial … until the end, where it said absolutely nothing about WHY I the new device would be an improvement!

The ad folks did a fabulous job setting up the climax and then there was …. no climax.

Too bad.

D

8 deemery { 12.21.10 at 6:59 am }

>But hey, a long history of failure doesn’t prove anything.

I beg to differ. “a long history of failure” proves the total lack of imagination and innovation by most of this industry. It shows just how different Apple is from the rest of that herd of sheep/lemmings. I would give RIM credit for the Blackberry as ‘new and different’, but I haven’t seen much originality from the rest of the computer or cellphone industry.

9 SkyTree { 12.21.10 at 7:10 am }

Er, what is Motorola coming out with? A WASP!

Maybe it’s a HORNET, as in “stirring up a hornet’s nest”?

Or a BEE? “B as in busy”? A tablet for business, perhaps?

Even so, I thought the cartoon Apoidea was pretty lame, coming in ass-first, then what, “pollinating” or was it supposed to bee “touching” the Moto logo, then buzzing off …………….

Buzz? Anticipation? Excitement? – wake me up when it arrives ………

10 Maniac { 12.21.10 at 12:32 pm }

There’s just one simple rule for iPad / iPhone / iPod touch wannabes:

“If you mention Apple, you lose.”

11 Maniac { 12.21.10 at 12:33 pm }

Maybe that’s what the bee represented. Wannabees.

12 John E { 12.21.10 at 12:38 pm }

Everyone knows the MR vid is silly. even MR knows. but it has already served its purpose – get buzz going on the blogs about MR’s future tablets. to try to take the spotlight away from Samsung’s Galaxy. same reason we see the RIM co-idiots blab stupidly about their future PlayBook vs. Apple. it’s the hype game. CES will be a tablet hype/BS orgasm. with the “pundits” piling on like horseshoe crabs on the beach.

many of them will thereupon prognosticate that Android tab sales will soon equal iPad sales, just like smartphones. but they miss a fundamental difference (not the prevailing 7″ size, tho that counts too until 10″ Android tabs are ready): the Google “cloud” ecosystem is great for a communication device, like a smartphone, but not for a media device, like a tablet (or TV set top box). whereas of course the iTunes/iOS ecosystem is by far the most advanced for media.

“ecosystems” are what the future market is really all about. you don’t buy stand alone hardware anymore. we all want to be connected to our stuff that matters to us – whatever it is, wherever we are.

but in an optimal easy to use dependable way. which is why a browser (Chrome OS, Google TV) just can’t do it all for us via the web.

so the big question – not hype – is what advances Apple will unveil next month for its ecosystem at its annual non-MacWorld post-CES event.

my guess: iOS apps for AppleTV 2 (an SDK for March launch, same time as iPad 2 release), and a teaser of more iOS integration in OS X Lion (to be fully unveiled at WWDC in June).

13 gctwnl { 12.21.10 at 3:24 pm }

@Maniac: “Wanna-bee” brilliant!

These days, Apple’s competition is constantly trying to get where Apple was a year ago. It is embarrassing how this happens continuously. What are these guys thinking announcing things at CES when Apple will be announcing something a month later?

My personal hope: Apple uses ATV2 / AirPlay / FaceTime to turn every TV into a videoconferencing setup. Everything is there already. Can you imagine you are talking with friends/family as you are sitting in your living room and they are sitting in theirs and it is as if there is one living room?

14 Brian Willoughby { 12.21.10 at 6:32 pm }

I followed the link to the CES versus MacWorld article, and was confused by the “ad naseum” comment. Is the media thumbing their noses at Steve Jobs? Perhaps you meant ad nauseum.

15 kdaeseok { 12.21.10 at 8:45 pm }

Motorola’s claiming iPad as ‘like a giant iPhone’???
What bullshit. iPad is nothing like a giant iPhone, there’s much more than Motorola can ever imagine. It’s actually like a giant iPod Touch. (No death grip)

16 gctwnl { 12.22.10 at 1:11 am }

@Brian: Ad Nauseam, I think. I read the same article and it is really interesting to see that list. Even more funny: remember how people often were disappointed after a Jobs keynote?

Maybe the list should be a permanently growing thing.

17 airmanchairman { 12.22.10 at 6:47 am }

@Maniac: Wanna-bees… love it! Genetically engineered hymenopterans. Most thought of it as a reference to Honeycomb, Google’s upcoming OS, but I like your idea better :-)

18 adobephile { 12.22.10 at 9:38 am }

I was in our Tampa Apple Store yesterday afternoon. It was crowded as it usually is. And the highest concentration of people–in places, two and three waiting their turn on a machine–was around the iPad table which had about a dozen iPads running. Intense interest on the part of everyone there of all ages, sizes, colors, and shapes.

THIS is what any would-be competitor must be salivating over, so then must HONESTLY contend with!

19 ChuckO { 12.22.10 at 10:50 am }

I think this post takes this silly (video,ad,?) whatever you want to call it to seriously. This thing like the BlackBerry CEO showing off their iPad competitor wreaks of desperation. I think they both know in their hearts they have in Patton Oswalds turn of phrase “a failure pile in a sadness bowl”.

20 tech_ed { 12.22.10 at 2:04 pm }
21 sprockkets { 12.22.10 at 9:31 pm }

“But hey, a long history of failure doesn’t prove anything.”

Yeah, you keep that in mind when you look at sales numbers of Kinect there buddy.

22 gctwnl { 12.23.10 at 3:05 am }

@sprockkets:
1. The comment about a history of failure was about Motorola, not Microsoft.
2. Nobody said Microsoft could not have successful products (though several of those were bought and not developed).

23 Brian Willoughby { 12.23.10 at 3:25 am }

@sprockkets
Congratulations are due Microsoft to an extent, but Kinect is an accessory, not a platform. The installed base of iOS dwarfs Xbox 360, even if you count all the broken ones. Kinect could make the Xbox look more attractive as a platform, but Microsoft does not seem very supportive of using the Kinect with other platforms. That fact alone makes a comparison between the iPad and Kinect highly dubious.

24 TheMacAdvocate { 12.23.10 at 7:02 am }

@SkyTree

I think it’s a blow fly that picked up the scent of another decomposing carcass.

25 sprockkets { 12.23.10 at 8:56 am }

@gctwnl and @Brian Willoughby, that comment was directed at DED; you need to look up Daniel’s article about how Natal would be vaporware based on the “look at all the failures with Microsoft, Natal will be too!”, even though months earlier they demoed it on Late Night TV with Jimmy Fallon.

26 gctwnl { 12.23.10 at 9:50 am }

@sprockkets: if you want to comment on another article that Daniel wrote, it is best to comment there and not here. The quote you gave above came straight from this article. How are people to know that it is about another article Daniel wrote?

Having said that, the fact that one of the many announcements of Microsoft over the years (that Daniel has mentioned with some frequency) there is the occasional announcement that happens to actually be delivered and also a success (such as Natal – Kinect) does not mean that not Microsoft too has its history of failures (many of which do not even make it out of the gate).

The list of announcements from Microsoft over the years is an impressive one. The list of announcements that were actually delivered is a lot smaller. And the list of the ones that were delivered and were a big success is smaller still.

27 sprockkets { 12.23.10 at 10:01 am }

@gctwnl, of course. That’s why of all people, DED should heed his own advice :)

28 gctwnl { 12.23.10 at 10:07 am }

@sprockkets: You’ve lost me here. What advice?

29 _iCeb0x_ { 12.24.10 at 7:41 am }

Pardon me, I think you guys are getting out of the subject, which is “Motorola’s blunders”.

But, now that sprockkets mentioned it…

Daniel was wrong on that one. “Project Natal”, now the successful product named “Kinect”, didn’t end up being vaporware. It’s a released product, a lot of people love it and it’s selling strong, at least from what I know.

But then, I think Daniel is right most of the time. His analysis are pretty much always correct. Microsoft has a long time history of announcing vaporware to create buzz and keep the name “Microsoft” in evidence.

It’s not that big of a mistake to think of anything that Microsoft announces as vaporware. Daniel is biased, just as much as his audience/readership, myself included. He says a lot of things we want to hear and, as I said, turn out to be true most of the time.

So, if any “Windows Enthusiasts” want to come here and try to crucify Daniel for his articles, just keep in mind: this is a place made by and for Mac zealots.

30 gctwnl { 12.24.10 at 9:50 am }

@_iCebox_: Sorry, I disagree. The selection of subjects may be slanted towards Apple-positive items, but the term zealot is not appropriate. That does not do credit to Daniel. He has made a couple of strong fact based analyses (e.g. Android memory model, remember that one?) which makes many come here.

31 sprockkets { 12.25.10 at 4:41 pm }

_iCeb0x_, being an apple fan and reporting facts are not mutually exclusive. He for the most part posts factual articles. But let’s face it – today’s Microsoft isn’t the idiot it was and/or isn’t as polarizing/black and white as he paints them.
And if he took the time to use a Win7 phone, he might actually agree with Anand of anandtech, a long time apple mac user and iphone user, that yes, Microsoft one upped them on the UI, especially on the responsiveness of it.

32 _iCeb0x_ { 12.25.10 at 6:25 pm }

@gctwnl: maybe I am exaggerating when I used the term “zealot”.

But, even then, it’s hard for any Apple fan to admit that the “other guys” have done a better job at something.

Whoever lived the times when we had to put up with Mac OS 7.6 or 8.0 knows that the Mac wasn’t that much better at the time.

But sometimes Daniel gambles on predictions that may turn wrong, as sprockkets and I illustrated: Kinect and Win Phone 7.

As I said, Daniel is right most of the time. I agree with you that it’s because he bases his articles on facts and observation.

33 _iCeb0x_ { 12.25.10 at 6:36 pm }

@sprockkets: I didn’t want to suggest that Daniel makes up facts or that his reports are innacurate and totally biased. I keep coming back to RDM to read Daniel’s articles because they’re well written, based on facts and even entertaining.

I don’t agree with you that MS is better now. Two hits in a year (Kinect and Win Phone 7) don’t mean that they got everything right. I think they are the same. For example, they still use the same tactics as before: FUD, pre-announcing vaporware, etc.

I’ve heard from friends that Win Phone 7 is cool and works well. I’ve read some positive reviews. I am not sure if Daniel said that Win Phone 7 would suck. If he did, he might be very wrong.

But Daniel said that Win Phone 7 would be “too little, too late” and wouldn’t save the “platform”. He stated a lot of reasons for that, and I believe he’s right.

34 FreeRange { 12.27.10 at 8:47 am }

@sprockkets – your pseudo intellectual masturbation is really quite tiresome. It would be deeply appreciated if you would go troll somewhere else. For you to bring up DED’s comments about the Kinectic is really absurd for several reasons. First, MSFT did not develop this technology, they bought it. (What is really comical is that they spend over $3 BILLION a year on R&D and their only recent “success” as you call it was developed elsewhere!) Further, it is a fricking low margin peripheral to a device in a market, big box gaming platforms & games, that has shrunk substantially in the last 2 or 3 years. Lastly, it can not be considered a trues success until it can actually substantially / exponentially grow the market for this category (big box gaming devices and games) and that is very doubtful.

35 dallasmay { 12.28.10 at 2:41 pm }

I just don’t understand why you hate Android so much. MS and Windows I get. MS achieved their monopoly through shady dealings -if not down right theft- abused their power and attempted to close off the internet and make it an extension of Windows. MS is evil. I get it. But why do you insist on hating Google and Android? If it wasn’t for Google’s Android Apple would have simply released another iPhone 3G. Yeah, remember the 3GS? A slightly upgraded 3G. There would have been a 3GS-2 if Google and Motorola hadn’t made such a big splash with the Droid. And it was a good phone. What’s the problem? Do you really think that a world run by Apple would really be that much better than when the world was run by MS? I don’t think it would be.

Competition is the thing that moving the market so fast now. Google, and their parterns, have done nothing but been excellent competitors to Apple. You may like Apple’s phone more, and you have good reason to, but the hate that you dole out for Google is simply silly.

I for one hope that Google’s Android 3.0 running on the Moto-whatever blows the iPad out of the water. I hope it forces Apple to can their plans for the iPad 2 and go back to the drawing board. That’s called competition. And it’s a good thing.

36 Brian Willoughby { 12.29.10 at 12:02 am }

@dallasmay
I don’t know whether Dilger hates Android or not. Even if he seems to enjoy reporting their failures, it does seem that he is mostly reporting facts (perhaps with a little flair). There’s no good excuse why Android does not have as many applications, total, as iOS, or even as many quality apps. If Android did have a competitive app offering despite the different distribution model, then I would hope that Dilger would not simply criticize them for being different. It’s one thing to analyze Apple versus Android and hypothesize that the success of the former is due to a controlled distribution system. It would be another thing to espouse Apple’s approach if there were not clear advantage in the marketplace.

I’d say that the Android community should step up and produce a wide variety of compelling and competitive applications, and then see whether Dilger remains biased pro-Apple.

37 gctwnl { 12.29.10 at 3:56 am }

@dallasmay
I don’t think Daniel hates Android or Google, but he does hate stupid statements and comments and there have been enough made concerning Android/Google and the coming demise of the iOS-based ecosystem.

Android has been very successful in the US the last year. Does that mean it is better? At least the MS-Windows history proves that better does not al ways win out (“cheap but good enough” has won before). Asymco has argued pretty convincingly that the market numbers in a supply-constrained market do not mean much about popularity of one platform versus another. Daniel has argued pretty convincingly that there are serious problems in both Android’s technical setup (e.g. memory model) and market position (fragmentation) that make it difficult for Android to become the mobile ‘windows’ many expect it to be.

Apple is not interested in becoming the one with the largest unit sales number. They are interested in becoming the best provider and for that they need a decent ecosystem. So, they are interested in maintaining a big ecosystem as a precondition for being able to sell great products. They have learnt from the past that this means that they need not be overpriced and that they need to innovate constantly and meaningfully. This is what they are doing now and they are doing that in several far from saturated markets (tablets, smartphones) and they are poised to do the same in the living room (TV+). Innovations take a long time. Apple’s innovations are not a reaction to the market, but a reflection that they innovate anyway. Jobs has two mantras: “concentrate on user experience” and “innovate constantly” (and innovate yourself out of a slump) which have now become the soul of Apple (instead of a money driven thing Apple was and that almost killed Apple)

38 adobephile { 12.29.10 at 6:44 am }

@gctwnl
Yours is one of the more astute assessments of TODAY’S “Apple vs. others” situation. I’m looking forward to Apple’s earnings report in a few days. Those will be the telling facts of Apple’s success which doesn’t seem to depend much, or at all, upon Android’s performance.

39 kerryb { 01.02.11 at 8:29 am }

Okay this is a bit of advertising and not a documentary on the history of tablets. It is meant to be fun, entertaining and means of creating some excitement to a product that will not live up to the hype. Not everyone that sees this ad will care about the facts they will be curious to what Moto will introduce.

40 ShabbaRanks { 01.03.11 at 1:36 pm }

Jeez. I felt stupider just watching that. Thanks Dan, I’ll never get that time back.

41 Google wants to be Apple as much as Microsoft did. But can Motorola help? — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 08.15.11 at 8:41 pm }

[...] Motorola’s history of tablets shows remarkable ignorance Upward trajectory? [...]

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