Paul Pierce remembers the reaction his team of designers elicited from their engineering colleagues when they proposed a smartphone with a gently curved back that would nestle into a person's hand.
"We didn't take it as a negative, but they were literally laughing when they saw the concept," recalled Pierce, Motorola Mobility's director of industrial design for the Moto X, the first flagship phone to come out of the company after it was acquired in 2012 by Google for $12.9 billion.
Pierce and the designers loved the natural feel of the rounded device, but the engineers saw a guffaw-inducing challenge: How would they fit a multitude of tiny, rectangular components into a curve without wasting space?
As it turned out, overcoming that engineering conundrum for the Moto X set the tone for solving another vexing problem at the stalled technology giant: Jump-starting a creatively inert culture that, through years of painful restructurings and cuts, prioritized cranking out dozens of products to meet nitpicky technical requirements rather than coming up with groundbreaking ideas. In setting out to reclaim Motorola's long-lost position as a dominant player in mobile technology, designers and engineers were given one directive: Think big.
Reshaping a corporate culture, particularly at a company like Motorola with 85 years of history and thousands of employees, isn't done overnight or through a single product launch. Even so, the Moto X marked a turning point for the Libertyville, Ill.-based company, one that the team hopes will spur the company's rebirth.
"It wasn't like Google bought us and all of a sudden [said], 'OK, guys, let's work on this new thing, we've got this great idea,' " said Joe Allore, the lead product architect for the Moto X. "No, it wasn't like that. Maybe this is old-school thinking, but I was expecting a little of that. If anything, the expectation was higher: Step back and look at ourselves and set our own expectations for what we wanted to do and make."
The burden on the Moto X and its successors is enormous. Motorola, which produced the first commercial portable phone and once had a top-seller with the Razr, is clinging to barely 1 percent of the global smartphone market. The team behind the Moto X wants to show that Google didn't just buy a lucrative patent portfolio with a money-losing hardware manufacturer attached to it, but rather a company capable of producing cutting-edge technology that appeals to consumers worldwide. (continued...)
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