Asus made a Nexus 7 tablet starting at $199 Samsung made a Nexus 10 tablet starting at $399 LG made a Nexus 4 phone starting at $299 Acer made a Chromebook (laptop) starting at $199It is hardly controversial to say all of these are better and more cost-effective devices than anything Motorola has produced. Even if Motorola had not been distracted by the pending (August 2011 to May 2012) merger with Google, could it have profitably engineered and manufactured any of these four devices at these kinds of prices? This type of capability breaks down into several dimensions: 1. Timing: How quickly can Motorola cough up a new design and deliver the finished product? 2. Quality: Can the fit and finish compete with Acer, Asus, Samsung, et al.? 3. Cost: Can Motorola accomplish any of this at a competitive price? Obviously these three things hang together, to some extent. You can always have at least one out of these three. However, even two out of three is not good enough -- this is the big boys' game now, so you cannot tolerate falling behind on a single metric. All of these prices for the newest Google gear listed above has been class-leading, and widely lauded. It also appears that most of this work has happened in Asia. Yes, it's true that I'm not saying that all or most of the work needs to happen in Asia, but there is one thing here that is a bit suspicious to me, and that's Chicago.
Motorola is primarily in Chicago. When it comes to producing a piece of $199 cutting-edge portable computer that only months earlier used to cost $399 or $499, Chicago is not what comes to mind. When I close my mind and try to imagine Chicago in the 2013 mobile computing economy, the only thing that comes to mind is a Trabant car from East Germany, ca. 1977: Bureaucratic labor, high cost, moving slowly. Acer, Asus, HTC, LG and Samsung move quickly. They can engineer a device from scratch and bring it to market in four months. Google bragged how Asus did the Nexus 7 in four months. Now they are talking about Motorola taking at least 12 to 18 months to bring a device to market. Getting Motorola into shape to compete against Asus or LG seems as difficult as preparing a hobby tennis player for playing in the Wimbledon finals against Bjorn Borg. Then add whatever disruption resulted from the pending merger. Has this set back Motorola's execution capabilities further? Who knows? Either way, it raises the question: Can Motorola ever recover from this, to catch up with LG, HTC, Samsung, Acer and Asus on the ability to engineer a $199 device in four months or less? Actually, considering this first hurdle alone, it makes me almost too depressed to get to stage number two in this equation. If Motorola is fundamentally too incapable or just too slow or too expensive, what's the point of keeping it alive at all?
So far, Google has worked with very few Nexus partners -- HTC, Samsung, Asus and LG. Currently three of them are offering product simultaneously. Will it simply add Motorola to this roster, perhaps together with others? If so, we get back to point No. 1 above -- Motorola's ability to compete on price, quality and doing it on time.