Though it battled a crowded field, Motorola emerged from CES 2011 as the clear winner in wireless. Its Xoom tablet won CNET's Best of CES award; it introduced the dual-core Droid Bionic and Atrix 4G; and its laptop dock was the most innovative smartphone accessory we've seen in a long time. You had only to visit the company's massive booth on the show floor to feel the buzz that Moto created. I tried stopping by a couple of times, but I could barely get past the crowds straining for a glimpse of the new devices.
Call me a fanboy if you must, but Moto deserved that attention. When you see as many cell phones as I do over the course of a year, only a handful really stand out from the crowd. The remaining models aren't necessarily bad, but they can be so much alike that they just start to blend together. Moto, however, offered features and power in Las Vegas that I hadn't seen before. And that's always a welcome thing for a gadget reviewer.
Ever since I started at CNET in 2003, I've regarded the company the way a parent might look upon a bright, hard-working, but sometimes wayward child. Like a long-suffering father, I've beamed with pride as the company succeeded, shook my head in dismay as it grew complacent (remember how long it pushed the Razr?), and tore my hair out in frustration as it made terrible mistakes. And like clockwork, Moto always redeemed itself just as I was about to kick the delinquent kid out of the house.
Just consider that over the last decade Moto has had more than its share of ups and downs. High points like the groundbreaking StarTac, the trendy Razr V3, and the powerful Droid were stratospheric, but low points, such as the Evoke, Rokr E1, and Backflip were maddening to the core. So for every success, there was a stumble.
You can't beat the experience
Granted, Moto is not the only cell phone maker with a tumultuous history, but parents tend to hold their kids to a higher standard. More to the point, I care about Moto's continued innovation because for a long time it was the innovator in the industry (blame the airline geek in me, but I call Moto the Pan Am of wireless). Its Dynatac, for example, was more than the first commercially available cell phone; it was a foundation for how cell phones continue to evolve. And remember that unlike many of its recent competitors, Moto didn't wait to see if that whole wireless thing was more than just a fad before making a phone. With all due respect to Nokia, Moto actually created the fad and made the success of the later companies possible.
I'd hate to see such an industry leader die, just as I got misty eyed when Pan Am flew into the sunset. As promising as they look, the Atrix 4G and Droid Bionic are just the latest examples of how the company has pushed the envelope throughout its history. If you don't believe me, check out the related photo gallery of the company's most-noteworthy handsets. Not all of them were noteworthy in a good way, and they're weren't all wildly successful, but many were firsts. And they serve as examples of what Motorola can do.
I'll gladly criticize Motorola when it deserves it (Motoblur anyone?), but there's a difference between an honest critique and pure schadenfreude. So even when we get a dud like the recent Flipout, it's irresponsible for true gadget fans to relish a dance on Moto's grave. These days, the company's biggest detractors tend to be the most rabid iPhone fans--in my experience they have a hard time recognizing that any company besides Apple can have good ideas--but even Apple loyalists have to respect Moto's tremendous influence on not only cell phones, but also the larger gadget universe. I realize, of course, that respect is earned, but Moto still has mine, even if it misses the occasional beat.
In late 2005, I asked then Motorola CEO Ed Zander what the Razr V3's success had meant to his company. He paused for a moment, before replying that the thin handset made Moto believe it could achieve greatness again. Five years later, I hope that Moto's CES experience will give the reorganized company a similar boost of confidence to deliver more years in innovation. Yes, I might be overbearing, but I just expect a lot from my kids.