As part of a partnership with Apple Computer Inc., Motorola Inc. plans to release an iTunes client this year. That device was going to be shown off during a keynote talk Thursday at the International Consumer Electronics Show until executives realized that engineers worldwide might be watching the speech webcast and could, if they were inclined, see the design and share it around the Internet.
So attendees had to be content with the promise from Ron Garriques that the device will be out this year. The president of Motorola’s personal devices division gave peeks of other upcoming technologies and gadgets and offered the company’s vision of the converged future in which users are in control. Garriques filled in for company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ed Zander, who had to cancel plans to speak because of a death in his family.
Garriques took a jab at industry pundits who have said that mobile phones will become commoditized over time. That will never happen, he said. “This thing is never going to be commoditized,” Garriques said, holding up a Razr handset, which he said is “for us (at Motorola) just the most thrilling product.” Although the thin handset is jammed with functions including MPEG4 video playback and Bluetooth, users don’t buy it for those features. “People buy it because it fits in (the) top pocket,” he said.
As for the commoditization issue, mobile phones operate on different frequencies depending on where they are used around the world, and are manufactured under differing national regulations, he said. Handsets use various operating systems from different vendors with different telecommunication carriers providing services and handsets that come in a variety of styles and designs, he said. Software and hardware makers, manufacturers and carriers have no incentive to have their products and services interoperate and because of that the market will never be commoditized, he said.
Garriques had something to say, too, about convergence — as usual, a big theme at CES. Some have said users would turn to their mobile phones as their main consumer electronic devices and so those will need to handle varied multimedia functions. Others have pointed to the PDA (personal digital assistant) as the key convergence tool. But convergence hasn’t occurred around any one device. “It converged around people,” he said, asserting as others have in talks and panel discussions here that individual users — not companies — are in control and their demands and the ways they use devices are the greatest market forces.
While some of us older folks might not want to accept it, our children — Garriques specifically mentioned 10- to 16-year-old girls — are the ones constituting the major market force. And kids want to be connected all of the time to the Internet, to music, to their friends, if not to their parents. Motorola’s “Seamless Mobility” initiative is at least partly aimed at preteens and teenagers, but the applications of that initiative shown during the speech were clearly aimed at the audience — mobile professionals who want the latest gadgets to help them in their jobs and their homes and in between.
The “Motorola Snowboarder,” who is attracting a lot of attention at the show, appeared on stage to help Garriques demonstrate aspects of the initiative. The snowboarder wore a Bluetooth-enabled jacket and carried a Bluetooth-enabled helmet that are both designed to keep users connected even while snowboarding or skiing on a mountain. The gear is part of a deal Motorola has with Burton Snowboards and is expected to be on the market at the end of this year or early next year.
Already out is the company’s BLNC Bluetooth Car Kit Portfolio with three products debuting at CES. Users who get phone calls can take those in their automobiles over the vehicle speakers for hands-free talking. More Bluetooth-enabled products will be out soon in the U.S., Garriques said.
The company is also working on an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag as part of its “Liquid Media” initiative that allows content to follow users from place to place and device to device. A user listening to a particular tune at home can carry their RFID tag into their car and have the tune play there and then move into their office and have the same song keep going over their laptop. The tag will be available this year, he said.
Before the talk, users complained aloud about a blasting, and obnoxious to some, techno song playing in the Hilton Theater with the phrase “Hello Moto” repeated over and over. But many seemed wowed by the demonstrations and the pervasive concept that devices are becoming more personalized.
“The user-centric message was spot on,” said Nic Fulton, head of media technology for Reuters America LLC in New York.