Google banks on innovation for Motorola revamp

14 Aug 2012

As you no doubt know, Google is making changes at Motorola Mobility, sacking 20% of the handset maker’s workforce, including 40% of its vice presidents. Potentially more interesting is the fact that Google has also created a new research department for Moto focused on cutting-edge tech, and has even hired Regina Dugan, a former director of DARPA, to run it.

According to the New York Times, Google created the Advanced Technology and Projects department within Moto in the hopes of facilitating the kind of technological innovation Moto is going to need if it wants to get back in the smartphone game and take on Apple and Samsung:

Ms. Dugan, though coming from Washington, already speaks the language of Silicon Valley. “It’s a small, lean and agile group that is unafraid of failure,” she said, and it will “celebrate impatience.”

She is hiring metal scientists, acoustics engineers and artificial intelligence experts. They will work for her for only two years so they feel a sense of urgency, she said, an idea she borrowed from Darpa, where people wear their resignation date on their name tags.

The NYT also reports that Motorola Mobility’s new CEO, Dennis Woodside, intends to cut the company’s device roadmap from the 27 in launched in 2011 to “just a few” really cool devices that can do things like recognizing who is in a room via voice recognition, and with battery life measured in days.

The big question, of course, is whether Dugan’s DARPA experience can be applied to a commercial manufacturer environment, reports Technology Review:

Dugan's DARPA experience could help drive a research mission at Motorola, says Wade Trappe, a professor at the Rutgers University Winlab. "She is very good at driving a larger research program. And Motorola and the Android platform need to think out of the box to compete against the smooth interfaces and other features that the iPhone has," he says.


But whether the DARPA research model can work in the fast-evolving world of smartphones is unclear, says Chetan Sharma, a wireless analyst in Seattle. "Regina does bring in outside perspective specially related to projects that are leaps, versus incremental steps," he says. "However, this will need to be executed under the constraints of competition, time, and money."

And as always, there’s the question of what all this is going to mean to Google’s relationships with all the other Android handsets makers who aren’t Motorola.

In the NYT article, Woodside reaffirmed Google’s promise that Motorola will have no advantages over its other partners. The trick, Chetan Sharma told TR, is convincing those partners they have nothing to worry about:

“The biggest challenge for them is to keep the Android ecosystem together while launching their own Google branded devices," Sharma says. "It is a tough battle to attract the ecosystem and effectively compete against them at the same time."

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