Report: Motorola wanted to make a true Google phone, but Larry Page didn’t want it

March 14, 2014
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Larry Page

Motorola’s executives repeatedly asked for more support from Google, in form of technology and marketing funds, but Larry Page ultimately turned them down.

That’s the gist of a new report by The Information’s (paywalled) Amir Efrati (formerly with WSJ), via Business Insider. Efrati’s story explains why Motorola failed to produce the truly Googley phone that we’ve all been waiting for. The Moto X was a very polished device and had some interesting features, but in the end, it wasn’t special and impressive, in the way many of Google’s projects are. But it wasn’t for lack of wanting on Motorola’s part.

According to Efrati, Moto’s people had a grand vision for a smartphone that would marry great hardware with Google’s cloud expertise and unmatched computing resources. One example that he offers is natural language processing – Motorola wanted to take voice commands to the next level, and enable its devices to understand complex queries, not just simple, scripted commands like “Okay, Google”.

Motorola wanted to work more closely with the Google team that develops natural language processing technologies, which help computers understand naturally-spoken phrases rather than a limited set of commands. Deeply integrating such technology with Motorola hardware could enable people to use a much wider array of voice commands and speed up the time it took for the smartphone to respond to commands.

Needless to say, even small achievements in this area would have made Motorola’s phones stand out in the crowd. But Larry Page was reluctant to give Motorola access to Google’s resources, out of a fear of alienating Android partners, like Samsung or HTC. So Page reportedly forbade any collaboration between Motorola and the Android division, though he did allow Motorola to collaborate with other groups, including YouTube. That didn’t help much in the end, as people at YouTube and other product groups snubbed Motorola because the company “lacked scale.” Moreover, Google did not provide Motorola with the marketing funds it wanted, that would have allowed it to better compete with the 800-pound gorilla that is Samsung.

This report reinforces the theory that Google never seriously wanted to make Motorola its hardware arm. The $12.5 billion acquisition was more about patents than anything else, and the sale to Lenovo wasn’t the sudden change of heart (or admission of failure) that some portrayed it to be.

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