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Chat With Motorola CEO: Looking For Mojo In Android; Handset Deals Spur Innovation

Motorola is trying to get its groove back, betting on a partnership with Google to make new smartphones based on the search engine company's operating system software, Android.

It's been a few years since its last hit, the Razor, and Motorola has watched Research in Motion's Blackberry and Apple's iPhone run over smartphones from competitors. Motorola's first phone based on Android is called the Cliq and will be available starting November 2 through T-Mobile. The new device will be configured to run Google Voice.

Motorola co-chief executive Greg Brown runs the company's broadband mobilities solutions business.

I sat down several days ago with visiting Motorola co-chief executive Greg Brown, who runs the company's broadband mobilities solutions business. (The company's consumer devices business will be spun off and led by Sanjay Jha.) Brown and I talked about open and closed approaches to wireless technology and why Motorola chose to be open. Brown also talked about the merits, in his eyes, of exclusive handset deals with carriers -- a practice under review by the Federal Communications Commission.

Here's some highlights from our conversation:

Do you think your approach with an open-source platform is better than, say Apple's? They take a different approach in that you have to get approval to get an application on the apps store and the company can decide what applications to run or not to run as seen with Google Voice being blocked from the phone.

A key on the mobility side is to have as many applications as possible in an open system. Android will allow for a proliferation of applications by a ton of developer communities. We think that’s good, and then it's up to Motorola to differentiate in hardware design and the usability of the device and any customization of applications that sit on the Web operating system. Apple is very successful, but there is no one strategy that is superior over another. It's all about innovation and will be all about rich applications that sit in devices and we think our approach with Android will be able to do that.

As the FCC reviews whether exclusive partnerships between carriers and device makers (AT&T and Apple, for example) hurt competition and frustrate consumers, what is your view on such deals? Do they help or hurt you as a device maker?

What works about it from our standpoint is that if you come out with a very strong innovative device that is unique and powerful, then you have a greater likelihood of getting a higher level of status with a carrier. That product then has the potential of being a hero product, being strongly promoted. In the current environment of competition, if we want preferred placement with a carrier, the onus is on us to innovate and make a superior product to put us in that position. I don't know how many devices there are, but I'd be hard pressed to say there is not a very wide choice of devices for a carrier.

How do you think net neutrality rules proposed by the FCC could impact the economy?

Whatever is done should not have unintended consequences that impair investments. That said, I agree with spirit of net neutrality in that the notion of ubiquitous devices being connected to networks is a good thing. The concept of nondiscrimination is right, too. However, I think network builders and carriers should also be entitled to reasonable return on their investments. Whatever ends up happening, it needs to be able to accelerate broadband investment. I think [FCC Chairman] Julius [Genachowski] is a sharp guy. He understands technology and is also a business entrepreneur. He brings a set of qualifications and balance that should prove to be useful.

By Cecilia Kang  |  October 13, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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