Company / division: Motorola
Moto X4 Brings Android One to the US and Google’s Project Fi (Sep 20, 2017)
I noted a couple of weeks back with the launch of Xiaomi’s first Android One device that the project appeared to have morphed from a low-tier emerging markets play to one focused more on the mid market, and today’s news reinforces that perception. Motorola is launching its Moto X4 device into the US market as part of the Android One project, and this $400 phone will be available on Google’s own Project Fi service as an alternative to the Nexus and Pixel phones it’s offered until now. (The Nexus phones Google has offered are, by the way, currently showing as out of stock on the Project Fi site, suggesting they’re likely to get phased out with the launch of new Pixel devices in a couple of weeks.) The Android One version isn’t the only one Motorola offers – as I noted when it was announced, the main version actually comes with Alexa baked in, something the Google version certainly won’t do. All of this is indicative of Motorola’s falling leverage with carriers, and its need to do deals with other market players to parcel up its phones in different ways to find attractive niches.
★ Lenovo Reports Q2 Loss, Flat Smartphone Sales (Aug 18, 2017)
Motorola Z2 Force Reviews Highlight Tradeoffs (Aug 3, 2017)
Motorola today announced the latest variant in its flagship Moto Z series, the Z2 Force, which is a follow-up to the Z2 Play announced a while back. Motorola, of course, is part of Lenovo, which had pared back the Motorola branding over the past year, although today’s launch suggested it’s reversed course on that front, with lots of “batwing” Motorola logos and the full version of the brand (not just “Moto”) on stage and elsewhere. The Moto Z is the only really high-end phone either Lenovo or Motorola makes, but even then the Z2 Play is priced at $500, well below flagships from other manufacturers. Lenovo has said on earnings calls over the past year that it expected the Z to sell around 3 million units in its first year, so this isn’t a mass-market flagship in anything like the same category as the iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note phones, or even the LG G series. The Z line has been pretty much a niche proposition, and there are two big reasons for that: the modular approach, and the Verizon exclusivity in the US. Though neither of those changed with the Z2 Play, the Z2 Force will be available on all four US carriers, and offers a shatterproof screen and some other advantages over the Z2 Play. But it will also command a far higher price at around $800, putting it in line with the most expensive flagships from competitors. That’s a fairly bold move, but suggests Lenovo/Motorola feels comfortable about the device and its ability to differentiate in the market. Motorola has had an interesting set of differentiators over the last few years, in some ways going back to basics by emphasizing battery life and now shatterproof screens, while the modular approach is likely to be too niche to drive really meaningful sales. But will four-carrier support and a monthly financing program through Affirm, Motorola is definitely broadening the distribution this time around, and that should help it expand the addressable market quite a bit. None of that is going to catapult Motorola into being a major player in the US market again, but it should certainly allow it to take more meaningful share and re-appear on the radars of people who have written it off as a Verizon-only vendor in the US.
I’ve changed the headline here to reflect two key points from the article: that Lenovo has done an about face and decided to re-enshrine the Motorola brand as the main brand for its phones globally, rather than de-emphasize it as previously planned; and that the company is doubling down on its Moto Mods concept, rather than abandoning it as LG has. The branding decision is a no-brainer: it always seemed odd to take an iconic brand like Motorola and retire it in favor of the Lenovo brand, which has far less (and less positive) recognition among smartphone buyers globally. The Mods decision is an interesting one – this article has one of the first numbers I’ve seen on how well they’re selling – it sounds like roughly half of Moto Z phones are bought with at least one Mod, which is actually a pretty decent attach rate (no pun intended). But Lenovo’s latest financial results say the Z is on track for just 3 million shipments in its first year, relative to Lenovo’s 51 million total smartphone shipments in 2016, so this flagship is still a tiny fraction of its total sales. And that’s a problem, because the rest of Lenovo’s sales haven’t been going nearly as well, and those that have been are very low-end focused. That’s not a great recipe for eventual profitability in smartphones, something that’s remained elusive for Lenovo since it bought Motorola.
Moto G5 + Moto G5 Plus hands-on: A little less convention, a little more action – Android Central (Feb 27, 2017)
Lenovo’s Moto G range is one of its most popular, providing a pretty nice Android experience at fairly competitive prices, and at MWC it got some nice upgrades. This part of Lenovo’s portfolio has performed much better than the rest at a time when its smartphone sales overall and in China in particular have been collapsing. Those sales have been strong in markets like Latin America, where low-cost Android is a good fit. This is yet another example of the various strategies Android OEMs will have to pursue to find workable market niches – Sony is going up market, Samsung and Huawei rely on large scale in very different segments, and Lenovo/Motorola is finding some success in this low-mid range although not elsewhere.
via Android Central
Motorola Shares Results from Moto Mod Developer Events (Feb 6, 2017)
While LG is stepping away from its modular approach, Lenovo/Motorola seems to be doubling down on its Moto Mods strategy, holding developer events to invite third parties to come up with clever ideas for add-ons to its Moto Z range. Either Motorola is seeing more traction around the concept than LG did, or it’s simply out of other ideas for how to differentiate its phones in the market. I’ve seen little evidence that the Mods (or Moto Z) are selling particularly well, so I’m skeptical that it’s the former. But it’s interesting to see Motorola take the crowdsourcing approach here, both with these developer events and its Indiegogo campaign, which runs through March.