Arik Hesseldahl

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Eight Questions for Dennis Woodside, CEO of Motorola

A few hours later and a short distance uptown from today’s joint announcement by Nokia and Microsoft in New York today, Google and Motorola — now technically a subsidiary of Google — had their own bits of mobile phone news to share.

There are three new members of the Droid family of Android-running smartphones, all of them carrying the long-established Motorola brand name Razr. The name was one of many bits of the Motorola legacy in sight today as CEO Dennis Woodside, introduced first by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, declared that today was the “first day of the new Motorola.”

In its newness, it seems to be looking to draw strength from the old Motorola. Example one: Martin Cooper, the inventor for Motorola of the original handheld cellular phone — the same guy who in 1973 became famous for a PR stunt in which he wirelessly called rivals at Bell Labs in front of reporters assembled outside the New York Hilton — sat in the front row. Example two: Jim Wicks, the legendary head of Motorola’s design shop and the man who led the team that designed the original Razr that sold more than 130 million units and became the best-selling clamshell phone in history was also on hand. So no matter how you slice it, the new Motorola looks a lot like the old Motorola.

AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode and I sat down with Woodside after Motorola’s announcements today at New York’s Gotham Hall to talk about how the news fit into his longer-term vision for the company. My first question was about his reaction to today’s other downtown mobile event.

AllThingsD: I spent the earlier part of the day at Nokia’s big Lumia launch event with Microsoft. Nokia says its big differentiating factor is going to be photography. What will be Motorola’s?

Well, I think you saw the story today. We think speed and the focus on it really does matter. And getting LTE right is really hard. We’ve been at it for a while. There are lots of things you do with a device to make it run in a power-efficient manner that are not trivial. The last generation of the Maxx we’ve shown that we know how to do that. Another point is the design element, and the screens in particular. The edge-to-edge screen is also hard to get right. If you do it wrong the glass can break. A lot of people don’t want to compromise on the screen size. But they don’t want to haul around a large device.

So technically how did you fit a larger battery into something that slim with an enhanced display?

That is a strength of Motorola’s. We’ve been doing this sort of thing for a long time. Jim Wicks, our senior vice president in charge of design, is here, and his team has been working getting as much as you can into as thin a device as possible. If you took these phones apart, there are hundreds of pieces that fit together like an incredible jigsaw puzzle. So it’s actually really hard, but something we do really well.

A lot of people were wondering if we might see a tablet from you today …

Not today, but we have some tablets in the market that have done reasonably well, but clearly we have aspirations to be a bigger player in that part of the market. I don’t have anything to say today, but stay tuned. It’s certainly an area we’ll be investing in.

If you could change something about, say, the Xoom tablet, what would it be? What would you focus on first?

A couple things. When the Xoom first came out, the state of Android was very different from what it is today. The content wasn’t the same. The function of Google Play. Going forward, the content story has to be very strong, and I think Google is focused on that. I think also price makes a huge different. One of the reasons we brought in Mark Randall from Amazon’s Lab126 is that price matters to consumers, especially in the tablet space.

Talk about the broader vision for Motorola now that it’s part of Google. What is it?

Motorola is going to be an innovator in Android hardware. And we’re starting with the devices that you see today. But these have been in the pipeline well before Google acquired the company. We were able to make some tweaks, but the teams are working on the next generation of devices.

What does Google bring to the table for you at Motorola?

First, a long-term mindset and a conviction. Look at past acquisitions. Google paid $1.6 billion for YouTube in 2005, and a lot of people thought that wasn’t a good acquisition. And we spent a lot of time helping that business scale and build the business relationships it needed to survive. And now it’s an integral part of so many things. All the presidential election speeches are on it. It forms a fundamental part of how people engage with video around the world. That makes it a huge value. What’s it worth? It’s hard to know. But the point is that Google took a long-term perspective with it. It’s about having a long-term plan and then driving against a long-term technical vision that benefits consumers. For Motorola it’s that long-term mindset, and the long-term bet on mobility. That’s hugely valuable.

Does that long-term strategy include set-top boxes?

It’s a completely different business. It’s called the home division and it reports to me, but that is a radically different business. The mobile device business is inherently a consumer business with carriers as our partners. The set-top box business has a very different set of partners and consumers don’t usually choose their set-top boxes in those markets. It’s a completely different business and we run it separately.

Are you going to keep it?

We haven’t talked about any of our plans long-term for that business.

Five years out, do you see Motorola as a broad-based handset maker or do you think people will look at it as Google’s hardware division?

You have to look at how consumers are going to behave in five years. Look back five years ago. The iPhone had just come out and a lot of people had feature phones or maybe a BlackBerry. Five years from now the form factors are going to change radically. And the consumer is going to be thinking about wearables and tablets. They’ll still make phone calls, but I don’t know if the phone is going to look like it does now. But the device, the hardware that allows you to communicate and get on the Web in a mobile way is something that Motorola really does well.

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