Back in August of 2011, Google announced that they were buying Motorola. The smartphone manufacturer that had been having quite a bit of financial difficulty in recent years, Google wanted to "save" it. However, something that many industry analysts were worried about, was how this purchase would affect Google's partners which use Android on their mobile devices. There were many rumors that Samsung wasn't happy with Google owning one of their competitors, even though the search giant continuously noted that Motorola is its own separate entity and not ran by Google. Less than three years later, Google sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo.
Now Google bought Motorola for $12.5 billion in 2011, and sold it for $2.91 billion in 2014. That's a pretty big difference for the same company. It's worth noting here that the deal with Lenovo did not include any of the patents that Motorola owned – which Google cited as a big reason for them picking up Motorola. Google also separated Motorola Mobility from Motorola Solutions. Where Motorola Solutions created radios and such, while Motorola Mobility did all sorts of mobile products like smartphones, smartwatches, etc. So the Motorola that Lenovo bought was indeed much smaller, hence the smaller price tag.
When Lenovo announced they were buying Motorola, the reaction was sort of a mixed bag. Some were happy that Motorola would be able to flourish under Lenovo, something they couldn't do under Google, due to competition. But then that made Motorola – an American company – into a Chinese one. Additionally, many hardcore Android fans were worried about what might happen to Motorola. Would they just be absorbed by Lenovo? Or would they be able to be their own brand or company under the Lenovo umbrella? There were many questions that needed answering, and many of these questions weren't answered until 2016. About two years after the acquisition was complete.
One of the big questions was whether "Motorola" would continue to exist. Earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, news broke that Lenovo was getting rid of "Motorola" and will keep "Moto" as their brand. So instead of having the "Motorola Moto Z" it's the "Lenovo Moto Z", which makes a bit more sense, and it also means that the name doesn't sound redundant. But that did mark the end of an era. After all, Motorola was one of the first phone makers, having been founded in September of 1928 (although that was "Motorola, Inc." which was essentially killed off in 2011 when it became two companies, Motorola Mobility and Motorola Solutions). But it was the beginning of Lenovo phasing the Moto team into their company. After releasing some pretty decent smartphones in 2015, which continued – somewhat – the direction that Google had been taking the company in. Moto released some pretty different smartphones in 2016.
Under Google, Motorola had simplified their smartphone lineups. Going from having an exclusive line at each of the major US carriers (Atrix for AT&T, Photon for Sprint, Droid for Verizon, T-Mobile rarely carried any Motorola smartphones), to having just the Moto X, Moto G, Moto E and whatever Droid smartphones Verizon wanted. Now, under Lenovo, it appears that they are going in the opposite direction. In 2013, the company launched two smartphones that were not exclusives, a.k.a. Droid-branded. The following year, that went up to three, and in 2015 the company launched five smartphones. Three of which were in the Moto X lineup. Essentially taking the Moto X from just one device to having the Moto X Play, Moto X Style (branded as the Moto X Pure Edition in the US) and the Moto X Force (the international variant of the Droid Turbo 2 for Verizon). Now in 2016, that number has grown even further. With three Moto G smartphones, a Moto E smartphone, and so far, two Moto Z smartphones (although the Moto Z Force is only for Verizon). Blurring the lines for each of these smartphones, making it difficult to determine what markets and segments each one is destined for. On the one hand, having more options is always a good thing, but many of these smartphones compete with themselves.
That's not all that Lenovo has changed about Moto either. After the Moto Z and Moto Z Force launched (still exclusive to Verizon, until around September), the Moto team announced that they would not be doing monthly security updates. This caused many to freak out, perhaps prematurely. Instead, what Moto and Lenovo is doing with these security updates, is instead of pushing out a new OTA every month, they are bundling them together and pushing multiple patches out at once. This is actually probably a better idea than pushing out a new OTA every single month for every single device. Google has proved to be the only one that can actually do this, and that's largely due to the fact that they aren't messing around with the carriers. Meanwhile, Moto, Samsung, LG, HTC and others are. Samsung has shown that they can get these updates out every month, but not a single phone has gotten the update every month. Right now it's a bit too early to tell how quickly and how often these updates will come out for Moto's smartphones. But keep in mind that they did just push the May 2016 security patch to the Moto X Pure Edition in late July. A phone that isn't sold at any carriers. So the future doesn't look too bright, unfortunately, for updates.
Things get a bit confusing with Moto and Lenovo when you go to Lenovo's homeland of China. They are selling Moto's smartphones in China, but they aren't the same smartphones. Instead of running a stock version of Android, they are running Lenovo's "One UI", which is another new UI for Lenovo. Since they used to use the "Vibe UI" on their smartphones and tablets. Now, the difference in software is somewhat understandable. After all, Google services are banned in China, and many of the features that Moto has enabled on their smartphones use Google services like Google Now. And that would be basically useless in China, unfortunately. But they could stick to stock Android and include things like Moto Display on their smartphones. It just makes things a bit more confusing, and sure this is probably a "first world problem", but it makes things tougher for those that are covering the industry too.
Obviously, it is still a bit early to tell how well these changes for Moto will do for them in the long run. Considering this is really the first year that Moto has released smartphones and products, with Lenovo's influence. But the future doesn't look too bright for Moto, nor their headquarters in downtown Chicago, which they just moved back into in 2014 after having moved to Schaumburg, IL for a number of years.
Motorola has had a special place in many Android users' hearts. Whether it was from them picking up the Motorola Droid back in 2009, or maybe the Droid X the following year. Or even the Moto X back in 2013. Motorola has been a big part of Android, and a big part of what has made Android so popular today. It's been sad to see that Motorola is gone, and we're just left with "Moto". Hopefully Lenovo can turn them around and bring Moto back to their heyday. Something that Lenovo appears to be doing a good job with so far, but Moto was deep in the hole when Lenovo bought them, so bringing them back to profitability will definitely take some time.