Motorola launches social networking handsets

Motorola is planning a raft of mobile phones optimised for social networking, the first of which is launched today.

Motorola is planning a raft of mobile phones optimised for social networking, the first of which is launched today.

In a Reuters interview, Motorola co-CEO, Sanjay Jha, said Motorola will produce "multiple tens" of Android-based handsets over the next 15 to 18 months.

The move signals that Motorola, which tried and failed to sell its handset division last year, is either committed to mobile phones, or trying to make its mobile phone division saleable.

It was thought Motorola's mobile phone business was worth about $8bn when it was put up for sale early last year, but there were no takers.

The choices were to run it down, or invest in new products to give it a boost. It was estimated that it would take about $500m to a $1bn to spruce up the mobile phone product range.

Sanjay Jha, who joined Motorola from Qualcomm a year ago, made the investment.

Today Motorola launched the first of these multiple tens of Android-based mobile phones called "Cliq" in the US and "Dext" everywhere else, which plays to the web-based strengths of Android by offering synching of contacts, posts, feeds, messages, e-mails, photos from sources such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Gmail and Yahoo. Orange is selling it in Europe.

It is the second Android-based phone, the first coming from HTC. "If we're doing well financially, our next big focus will be Europe," said Jha, "it's too early for us to say what volumes will be but clearly we'll do everything possible to make sure that number is as large as can be."

Jha, an alumnus of Liverpool University, Strathclyde University and the GEC Hirst Laboratories, took on the toughest job in the mobile industry when he left the position of COO at Qualcomm to take over at Motorola in August 2008.

Motorola's mobile phone operation had been floundering following the success of RAZR.

The Motorola RAZR was the fastest selling mobile phone in history, hitting the market in November 2004 and selling 50m units in two years, driving Motorola's market share up from 16.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2004 to 20.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Then Motorola decided to pursue market share at the expense of profit, and the business declined rapidly. When Jha took over, Motorola's worldwide market share had declined to around 5%.

Android - open-source and web-oriented - is the vehicle Jha chose to get the mobile phone business back to glory.

Data is expected to generate 95% of wireless traffic within the next five years and many think the vast majority of the data traffic will be generated by social networking traffic.

"A staggering amount of our business is Facebook-oriented over our networks", says Andy Dunkin from the new technologies and innovation access team at Vodafone. Professor Michael Walker, group R&D director at Vodafone, says that 11 times more wireless traffic is being generated by community chatting than by person-to-person calls.

By making a raft of mobile phones optimised for social networking, Jha is offering wireless operators the opportunity to grab a big share of that social networking traffic.

This article orginally appeared on Electronics Weekly.

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