He’s credited with rescuing Motorola from the blink of oblivion. And he recently spearheaded the introduction of the hottest-selling Android phone yet, thanks in part to Verizon Wireless’ massive advertising campaign. Yes, the Droid does indeed signal that Motorola is very much in the mix as we enter the “superphone” wars. During the launch of the new BackFlip last week I had a chance to chat with Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha about the company’s momentum, what he thinks about the Nexus One, and how he plans to stay one step ahead of not only established Android players but newer partners like Dell and LG. For Jha it all comes down to focusing on user experience and taking calculated risks, which includes tablets. He told us that “you’ll see some innovation from us in this space.” What kind of innovation? Check out the full interview below.
Do you feel like the launch of the Nexus One has overshadowed the Motorola Droid to some extent?
The consumer satisfaction rate on the Motorola Droid has been really good. And if you look at the return rate, and I won’t go into the numbers, it has been very, very good. It talks to our ability to ramp volume production with quality. Increasingly it’s not about the hardware but the experience we deliver, and I really have to thank our partnership with Google there. We really delivered a good experience on that device. People have this sense that there is no information that they can’t get. The turn-by-turn navigation is incredible. It’s a tool that enables users to solve some of the problems that in some sense they didn’t even think that they had. The feedback has been very positive.
Why did you decide to attend the Nexus One launch event?
The reason I decided to attend was because fundamentally I see this as an opportunity to create a new channel. That channel will be accessible to HTC, Motorola, and other people. It allows us to get innovations to consumers faster than any other channel. And I think that’s what I like. It allows us to experiment. Quite frankly, how that channel works out I think Google will tell you that they know. And I don’t think we know how it will work. We just have to wait and see if it will become a marginal channel or an important channel. Time will tell.
Right now there are two types of Motorola Android phones, Google Experience and Motoblur. How do you point customers in the right direction?
It’s not a choice of either/or. With Motoblur they’re going to get both. We’re going to update those devices to the latest Android applications and software. And then we will deliver this aggregation of social networking and parts of the Internet that’s pushed to their home screen. The best part of Motoblur is a sense of surprise. The moment I turn it on and log on to the Motoblur server all of contacts are pushed and aggregated with the pictures already there. That’s one big thing. The second thing is e-mail and messaging. If you care about messaging I think Motoblur makes a big difference.
Could Motoblur be added to a Google Experience device like the Droid?
It’s actually deeply integrated so we would have to make some changes in the platform. It’s not as easy as flicking a switch.
Do you think U.S. customers are ready for unsubsidized handsets? Is that what Google is trying to change?
I don’t think so. I think the majority of handsets sold will be subsidized and taken with a plan. But they can buy it through the Web. Google gets a large number of hits on its Web site and they want to direct that traffic to this channel.
Has Google told you that you whether you will be able to sell Motoblur-powered phones through its online store?
The bias is going to be towards Google Experience devices but what they have said is that they are very open to distributing any innovation that they think will be disruptive. But I think clearly the bias is toward Google Experience devices.
Given how much competition there is now in Android devices, how will Motorola stand out?
The thing that I like about the moment is that Android is out-innovating every other ecosystem, and I’m really happy that we’re a leading part of that ecosystem. A lot of it is software, services, applications, and experiences that differentiate us. But you also have to pay attention to ID, how the phone will fit in your hand, and the usage model. You have to think in a much more integrated way.
Does that integrated experience include accessories?
Right, if the Droid didn’t have that car dock, the navigation application would be a much less important application. You put that device in the car dock and you’re automatically in navigation mode. The user experience is such a big satisfier. The bedside dock is such a big satisfier for consumers. You have to think the whole thing through. I think we’re migrating ourselves to being much more of an experience-based company from just a hardware-based company.
Some Andorid phones support multitouch displays while others do not, which has led to confusion. Can you give us a sense of whether your devices will have this feature?
I think you will see us deliver multitouch in the majority of our devices going forward. There’s a complex set of factors, not all of them technical. But I think you’ll see us being proactive on multitouch because the user feedback on multitouch is very good.
Now that Dell and LG will be making Android phones, how does Motorola plan to stay a step ahead of those larger companies?
I would say our focus on the software and user experience. I would also say our brand. We do a lot of studies, and we’re probably the number one or number two brand in the U.S. in mobile, probably behind Apple. And in China and Latin America we’re similarly positioned. The second thing that’s important is global distribution. We’ve launched with 23 carriers already in 15 different countries. It took Apple three years to get to that kind of scale. And HTC will probably get there eventually. But we’ve established those relationships over a period of time.
I think that we still do hardware as well as anybody does. And I think that our Motoblur service and aggregation stand out. There’s a point to be made about push Internet. People want what the information that they want without going out and getting it. And we believe really strongly in this notion of push Internet.
How has Motorola changed most since you took over?
It’s an innovation race, and you have to out-innovate people. Over the last 18 months we’ve spent a meaningful amount of money on things that we know have a reasonable chance of failure. You have to try new things. And I think that focus has really been quite important.
There is a lot of experimentation right now with larger screen mobile Internet devices, smartbooks, and tablets. Do you see a Motoblur-type tablet coming?
There are two use cases that I see. One is you want things in your pocket, and my view is that you’re largely consuming information when you’re doing that. And there’s another mode when you want a full screen and keyboard where you’re largely creating. There are some people who are saying that 7- or 8-inch devices in the middle could serve both purposes. But if it doesn’t fit in your pocket the usage and the time that you carry it with you drop dramatically.
So the question for me is how do we serve both of these needs in a unified way. And I think you’ll see some innovation from us in this space. We’re very engaged. We want to understand what tablets could do and why they can be useful and why they can’t be useful. I’m not going to be jumping on the bandwagon. I think we need to understand what problem we’re solving and why we’re solving it. We may get it wrong, but we will have a point of view.