The buzz around the new Motorola Razr is electric. It’s taken off well beyond Lenovo’s ability to control it and the result is that we are all going to be disappointed. To understand why it’s necessary to understand how the original Razr came into being. I was a Director at Motorola in Chicago at the time, and while many of my colleagues, even those who opposed the project, now have LinkedIN profiles claiming to have been involved in its creation I’m happy to say I was only an observer.
But I was close to the people, the super smart people, who did make it happen, and the way it was done means that there is no hope that the forthcoming folding screen Razr can be any bit as good as the original.
It’s not the fault of today’s Motorola, the Lenovo owned company is just a victim of circumstance. My job here is to explain why the circumstances are different. Perhaps the most important difference is that there had never been a Razr before, but it’s also about how that came to be.
Razr was a skunkworks, produced by a bunch of engineers in their spare time and time stolen from other projects. Indeed the Motorola Aura which was to have been the follow-up was codenamed GD2 for “Go Dark 2”, the second project from the same skunkworks, but under the glare of Razr publicity GD2 failed to stay dark and suffered the development malaise that saw a nine month project take the best part of three years so the best ever 2G phone was launched into a 3G world and it failed. The existance of new Razr is already out and that’s the first thing which means this year’s model won’t be as good. The original Razr had no input from mobile operators, no customer requirements, no research or focus groups. And most importantly no sales targets. The development team just built what they thought was cool. Without needing to meet targets they didn’t need to ensure component supply. The keypad came from a manufacturer who could only do limited quantities. It was an enthusiasm. A hobby for some of the most gifted engineers the mobile industry has ever seen who enjoyed what they did. Bo, who looked at screens knew everything there was to know about screen manufacture, where the bodies where hidden, what manufacturing processes where giving what yields, and which technologies were likely to fail despite being promoted by their companies. Joel loved audio, he spent all day worrying about sound quality in phones and then went home to work out what he needed to do to improve the audio on his hi-fi. Roger knew and loved hinges. And most of all Moto had the very best radio engineers. The project was led by Roger Jellicoe a fantastically talented engineer who was protected from the rest of the business by Tracy and her boss Rob. It was a very special team building a very special phone without any commercial pressure.
The new Razr is being built by Lenovo. I don’t know much about the company and I assume that the internal processes and politics are very much better than those of the Motorola I worked for, but I’m just as sure that the environment in which the new Razr is being built is much more commercial and less indulgent. The RF will be on an established platform, the design will be dictated by component availability and there as a commercial project there will not be the passion and engineering flair.
Into this mix you need to add the renderings and anticipation. The concept models flying around the ‘net haven’t come from Lenovo they are people who are great at 3D modelling pleasuring themselves. They don’t have to worry about drop tests and SAR. They don’t have to consider the optical path for the camera, the rf occlusion from someone holding the device or the antenna packaging. All you see in a rendering is what someone thinks looks cool. It’s as though a car geek showed the next generation Ferrari as a flying carpet without stopping to think about where he engine would go.
It makes me sad for Lenovo because it is a great engineering company, but not as great as the fantasies of the 3D modellers. The modelers in turn have been fuelled by the way the original Razr was so radically different from anything before.
That was a perfect storm. Razr only happened because there was a very special team of people, protected from company politics by Geoffrey Frost. So when the new Razr comes out, and it’s a bit thicker than you were hoping, there isn’t a nice snap to the hinge, the screen isn’t as good as you were expecting and it’s not quite as polished as you’d hoped, don’t blame Lenovo, blame the fantasists.
Simon Rockman is the publisher of CW Journal read by the wireless and associated communities.