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On Call: Mourning Motorola

Motorola's cell phone business may be stumbling, but we shouldn't find any pleasure in its demise

Kent German, CNET's cell phones guru, answers your questions about cell phones, services, and accessories and reports on the state of the industry. Send him a question!

You can't talk about Motorola's cell phone division without hearing gloomy predictions about its future. Such a prognosis is understandable considering the litany of bad news that's come out of the company over the past year. Indeed, plummeting earnings, layoffs, executive departures, and Carl Ichan haven't done much for Moto's image. Yet, I'm struck by how the cell phone world appears to be shrugging off the decline of a storied and pioneering company. Instead of hearing a lot of hand wringing over Moto's troubles, many consumer and industry watchers seem to be content to let Moto go.

An old classic. CNET Networks

This sentiment is both unfortunate and uncalled for. While Moto is largely responsible for its declining market share, I don't think it deserves the schadenfreude that goes along with it. We're not talking about some two-bit company; we're talking about a firm that gave us some of the most popular cell phones ever. We can't underestimate the impact of models such as the Startac and the V60, nor can we forget that Moto's iDEN phones continue to power Nextel. And I couldn't have agreed more when PC Magazine's Sascha Segan explained the dangers of a world without Moto. While competitors such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson consider North America an afterthought, Motorola gives equal attention to its home market. Instead of waiting in line behind Europe and Asia to get Moto's phones, usually we get them first. That's a benefit I don't want to lose.

History, however, can be a strength and a hindrance. When we talk about Moto now, we talk more about its past glories than its current hits. Like many of my colleagues, I've criticized the company over the past couple years for that very reason--it's been a long time since it has wowed us with something completely new. Just consider what Moto's record this year. After an exciting CES where it introduced the promising Rokr E8, it barely made a ripple at GSMA and at CTIA, itgave us just the Motorola Z9. Though the Z9 proved to be a satisfying phone, it was more of the same.

Moto's last big hit CNET Networks

I'm confident that Moto has the potential to surprise us, and I'm hopeful that it successfully spins off its cell phone business as it has promised. At CTIA CEO Greg Brown insisted that the company is committed to the mobile business but the Wall Street Journal isn't too optimistic on the prospect. The newspaper estimates that an independent cell phone division would need about $4 billion to support itself. It also reported that Hewlett-Packard executive Todd Bradley, who was being considered to head the new company, has pulled his name from consideration.

I'm not going to postulate about what Moto needs to do to save itself. Frankly, that's already been discussed many times over and I don't think I'd have anything new to say. But let me tell you a story. In late 2005, about a year after the iconic Razr V3 went on sale, I had the chance to ask former CEO Ed Zander what the Razr meant to his company. He replied that it had a huge effect not only on the company's external its external but also its internal morale. Because of the Razr, Zander said, Moto's employees began to believe in the company again and that it could do great things. After riding the Razr wave for so long, I wonder if the company still believes that. Please don't hang up on us Mototola, this is one caller that would hate to see you go.

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