Motorola’s Handsets, Prospects Panned at Mobile World Congress

The early reviews have been filed on the recently concluded Mobile World Congress, which took place in Barcelona this year.

The consensus view is that Motorola flopped at the world’s biggest showcase for mobile phones and wireless handheld devices. The company, formerly a leader and now a growing laggard in the cellular-phone business, didn’t spotlight innovative handsets at this year’s edition of the event, nor did it provide a compelling vision of how it planned to regain lost luster.

As Techsmart columnist Dan Burrows noted:

"Either way, Moto’s going to need a bunch of hit phones to have any hope of recovery in the core business, and it sure didn’t blow anyone away in Barcelona. The company unveiled a paltry lineup, consisting of an update to an existing model and a couple of low-end (read: low margin) phones."

Eric Zeman of InformationWeek was more scathing:

"Motorola is hurting. Bad. It debuted just three new phones this week at one of the largest mobile gatherings around the sphere. All three are re-worked versions of previous models … for emerging markets. Motorola’s tail is officially, and firmly, tucked between its legs."

Zeman also pointed out that Motorola apparently canceled a product announcement for a new phone that might have emphasized mobile IPTC capabilities. We’ll never know, evidently.

Meanwhile, Motorola leading handset competitors — market-leading Nokia, runner-up Samsung, and fast-closing fourth-place Sony Ericsson — used the event to introduce a raft of new products, for the both the high and low ends of the market and everything in between. Nokia’s focus on GPS-based handsets and location-based services seemed to win particular plaudits for the industry cognoscenti.

Is there a product group or business unit at Motorola that isn’t a basket case or on the road to becoming one? Perhaps the set-top box business could be maintained and prosper in the right hands, but the others appear too far gone for meaningful rehabilitation.

The mooted combination of the wireless-equipment businesses of Nortel and Motorola, for example, would be like combining two servings of utility-grade beef and hoping it magically transforms into one big cut of prime meat. While impressed by the ingenuity and blind optimism motivating such an endeavor, one recognizes the result will have to make a grim accommodation with reality.

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