Motorola CEO: Apple 'to build a smart phone'

Ed Zander downplays "screw the Nano" remark and says "it's only a matter of time" before the Mac maker builds a cell phone. Photos: Zander on stage

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Motorola CEO Ed Zander on Thursday downplayed disparaging remarks he made last week about Apple Computer's newest music player and predicted that the Mac maker will build its own cell phone.

Zander was quoted as dismissing Apple's new iPod Nano at a Silicon Valley gathering Friday, saying, ". What the hell does the Nano do? Who listens to 1,000 songs?"

The comments seemed odd, given the long-standing relationship between the companies. More than 20 years ago, Apple used Motorola's 68000 processor in the Lisa. And earlier this month, the two companies shared a stage to introduce Motorola's Rokr cell phone , which runs Apple's iTunes software.

After his presentation Thursday at Technology Review's Emerging Technologies Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CNET News.com asked Zander whether there's a rift between the companies. In particular, is he happy with the partnership that produced the Rokr? And did Apple upstage the Rokr by introducing the Nano at the same press conference?

Zander said his comments about the Nano were "taken completely out of context. We have a great relationship with Apple. I've known Steve Jobs for 15 years. Sure, there is some tension there. We have the Rokr, and they have the Nano. They are a competitor as well as a partner."

He also added fuel to persistent speculation about Apple's interest in producing its own phone. "And we know that they are going to build a smart phone--it's only a matter of time."

On other fronts, Zander, a former Sun Microsystems executive who took the helm at Motorola nearly two years ago, demonstrated the recently released Rokr phone and showed prototypes of several advanced phones that also play music and are slimmer than current models.

Zander demonstrated one unnamed prototype device that can receive and play music videos. The device flawlessly played a Gloria Estefan video but would not shut off. Zander tried to silence the wayward device by unsuccessfully attempting to remove the battery. He finally called an offstage assistant for help.

On a more serious note, Zander bemoaned the lack of engineering students in the United States. "One big issue is our investment in education. We're not pushing enough science and math. Go around the world, and see the kind of national programs to push the sciences. We ought to own biotech, high tech and other areas," he said.

While Motorola is making strides in the design of new, smaller and more powerful devices, Zander said the biggest roadblock to future systems isn't the hardware. "Our biggest challenge in mobile delivery is in software such as DRM" (digital rights management). He laid blame for some of those software challenges at the feet of proprietary software makers. Motorola, he said, has embraced open source, Java and Linux, among other software. "We're moving from proprietary platforms," he said.

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    Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.

     

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