Already losing its edge, Motorola (MOT) faces a big week of dueling press releases as wireless heavyweights convene in Barcelona.
The 3GSM World Congress opens Monday, and industry watchers expect big announcements from mobile phone giants like
, game-altering proposals in business mobility from
and advances in so-called convergence from
The timing of the international showcase comes as Motorola seems to be faltering. The stock has fallen 13% in the past month as investors have begun to wonder if the company can match the strong year it had in 2005.
Among the worries is the delicate product transition going on at the Schaumburg, Ill., tech titan. After nearly two years of smashing success with the ultrathin Razr phone, Motorola now needs an even stronger second act to keep the momentum going.
"Razr redefined the segment with superthin phones," says Ovum analyst Roger Entner. "That phone was behind the resurgence of Motorola and it's now one of the top-selling models in the world."
But Motorola isn't off to a great start with its new designs. Last month, the company
blamed supply constraints for delays of its three biggest handset introductions last quarter. And phone-fashion watchers haven't exactly been dazzled by the sleek rounded Pebl, which was expected to be a hit with big spenders.
And then there are the imitators.
Korean electronics giant
has made no secret of its willingness to try to beat Motorola at its own thin game. In November,
introduced a Razr lookalike from Samsung called Blade. This week, Samsung is expected to roll out a new phone that is even slimmer than Motorola's wafer-thin Slvr.
Meanwhile, Motorola's latest music phone still managed to include a 100-song limit that didn't sit well with consumers the first time around. And Motorola's hotly anticipated Blackberry challenger, the Q phone, is slated for introduction amid uncertainty over
Research in Motion's
mobile email patent claims and a potential service disruption.
Don't think Motorola isn't sweating this high-stakes product shift. Last week, Motorola's chief of investor relations, Ed Gams,
tried soliciting a little support for the stock in an unusual email to analysts. After making a 17-point argument for the company, Gams suggested to some analysts that "it would be great to see you reiterate your 'Buy' recommendation on the stock!"
Unfortunately, instead of winning support, one analyst said, "It scared the hell out of me."
It seems getting to the top of the design game was hard, but staying there may prove even harder for Motorola.
"I won't knock the spectacular year they had in 2005, but you are only as good as your last product, and I worry that the Razr has made them complacent," says Gartner analyst Ben Wood. "They need to be careful that just spraying phones different colors does not become like
adding alloy wheels and a body kit to a Taurus to extend its life."