Motorola: A love story

For years, Crave's Eric Mack has been one of a rare breed, a true "Motorola Man." Now his commitment is being threatened by a trans-Pacific marriage with Lenovo. Will love win out in the end?

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The author visited the Texas facility where the Moto X is assembled. Eric Mack/CNET

Editors' note: Motorola has a big announcement planned for Tuesday in London. Many suspect it will be the budget-priced Moto E, or perhaps the so-called Moto X+1, a successor to the Moto X. The announcement comes at a complicated time for the company, which is in the process of being acquired by China's Lenovo. As a fan of Motorola's phones and its American legacy, Crave's Eric Mack has his own complex feelings about the company these days.

I have an unconventional love story to tell you, but not so unconventional it couldn't easily be made into a Hollywood romantic comedy. It's the kind with an international flavor to it, where the lead character starts off as a patriotic flag-waver, but is forced to deal with the reality of a rapidly changing world and perhaps his own technological xenophobia. The voice-over for the trailer would start something like this:

"In a world where smartphones are used and thrown away all too quickly, one man will discover his own passion for an American phone maker. Will he go to great lengths to preserve the past when their love is separated by an unexpected multinational merger? Or learn that both love and Android are truly international languages?"

In the trailer, we'd see scenes of me walking a huge factory floor with uniformed workers dutifully assembling smartphones in a mechanized rhythm. Cut to an external shot of the factory and then pull back to reveal that directly across the street from this center of industry is...a herd of American Bison. This factory isn't in Asia, it's in Texas, the birthplace of the latest object of my affection -- the Moto X -- from my surprising sweetheart, Motorola.

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Neighbors of the Moto X factory Eric Mack/CNET

Origins of a love story

Before my Moto X, I rocked a Motorola Droid Razr, which was the successor to my Motorola Droid 2. In fact, I have no fond memories of non-Motorola phones I've owned. My old HTC Tilt running Windows Mobile 6? Uh, no. What about those trusty old Nokia candy bars or that one flimsy Samsung flip phone in 2004? Truth be told, I was coveting the original Motorola Razr that whole time.

I'd never actually thought of myself as a Motorola fan until recently. You just don't hear people use that phrase very often. I live mostly in the Google/Android ecosystem and I might talk up that lifestyle choice, but I've never responded to the frequent smartphone recommendation requests people hit me up for with, "Well, pardner, I'm not afraid to say that I'm a Motorola Man, through and through."

Then came the news that Google had sold Motorola Mobility to China-based Lenovo.

It was a moment of reckoning straight out of a bad romantic comedy. In the Hollywood version of that fateful moment, the actor playing me (no doubt Matthew McConaughey at his most charming) would suddenly stand, mouth agape and dumbfounded for a second, before shouting to random passersby, "I just figured it out...I'm in love with Motorola! I've got to let her know before she's sold off to another multinational technology company based in a completely different continent in a country ruled by an authoritarian regime! Who knows what they'll do to her focus on design aesthetic and usability that so deeply resonates with me!"

McConaughey-me would then go dashing off to try and catch Motorola at the airport -- or rather at a boardroom at Google HQ -- to break up its engagement with Lenovo, played either by Alan Rickman or whoever that kid that plays King Joffrey is.

But there may be no such happy ending in real life.

Lenovillian?

Motorola -- the innovative American company that gave us the cellular phone to begin with, then guided it through those weird years of brick phones in the 1980s, made the coolest of the flip phones, and offered a top-notch alternative to the iPhone and BlackBerry with its Droid line --well, that company got bought by Google two years ago.

But the marriage of Motorola and Google was one I could get behind -- the American originator of the mobile age getting together with one of the latest greats in American innovation interested in pushing the mobile world to new heights. The Moto X, which managed to be sleek and understated with a few addictive features without being too expensive, seemed to prove that Googorola might just have the chops to compete with another American great, Apple.

Heck, if everyone saw what I see in my Moto, it might even be able to take on mighty Samsung with its legion of plastic phones in all shapes and sizes and many gimmicky features, not to mention a marketing budget greater than the GDP of Iceland.

Instead, this American institution is relocating to the other side of the Pacific, crossing a great cultural gulf in the process, leaving me to worry that Motorola will also soon suffer from the same clunkier approach to design that seems to afflict the big Asian phone makers.

While the likes of Sony and Samsung offer lots of advanced, whiz-bang features like eye tracking and sell half-baked wearable accessories rushed to market, Apple's success has conditioned Western consumers like me to value intuitive simplicity over gimmicks, no matter how technologically impressive. (To be fair, Americans are probably also more technologically illiterate than many Asian nations, which may also explain why we prefer simplicity.) I fear that Lenovo will sacrifice what made my Motorola phones always feel so great in my hand, choosing to focus instead on the gimmicks that I'll likely never use.

But perhaps it's not fair for me to be so technologically xenophobic. I may need to give the new, more international Motorola a chance, because after all, my wife is actually really digging her new Lenovo Yoga, which I, ahem, recommended whole-heartedly. Not to mention that Taiwan's HTC also puts out some very nice hardware. Clearly it is possible for an Asian company to design devices that connect with North American sensibilities (almost) as well as Apple or Motorola, or BlackBerry in years past.

This is the point in the movie where I come to terms with what might be my own device-centered prejudices and resolve to be a better man by accepting and supporting Motorola and Lenovo's intercultural marriage.

Unless, of course, Lenovo doesn't treat Motorola well. If that happens, I might have to get Liam Neeson to play me in the revenge flick sequel.

 

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