3:33am

Tue August 14, 2012
All Tech Considered

Despite Layoffs, Google's Motorola Strategy Aims At Innovation

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 5:18 pm

Google is shaking things up at its new subsidiary Motorola Mobility, announcing Monday that it will lay off 20 percent of the company's global workforce. Its strategy is to create a small division led by a technology star to spur innovation at the company that invented the cellphone.

Layoffs at any company are rough, but Charles Golvin at Forrester Research says it's likely employees at Motorola would prefer what's going on there to what's happening at some of their competitors.

"Google is investing in hardware design and innovation," Golvin says.

Companies like Nokia and RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry, however, are fighting for survival.

Google makes the world's most popular smartphone operating system, Android. And though Motorola Mobility lost a quarter of a billion dollars last quarter, Google is still immensely profitable.

The challenge for Google, as it absorbs Motorola, will be to convince companies like Samsung and HTC that it's still going to treat them fairly when it comes to handing out new versions of Android.

"I'm sure Samsung is worried about that," Golvin says.

He says Google has gone out of its way to reassure phone makers like Samsung that whoever can make the best devices — not "whoever has the best relationship with Google" — will win in the marketplace.

If Motorola can't get a leg up on the competition through software, however, it will have to compete in other ways. And that, say Google insiders, is where Regina Dugan comes in.

Dugan was the first woman to lead the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. At DARPA, she was known for pushing her employees and asking them what they would do if they couldn't fail.

"If you really ask yourself this question, you can't help but feel uncomfortable," Dugan said at a TED conference, "because when you ask this question, you begin to understand how the fear of failure constrains you."

Dugan backed DARPA research into advanced domestic manufacturing techniques, and she challenged scientists to build lithium-ion batteries smaller than grains of sand, earning praise from academics and military brass.

She left DARPA this spring and now heads a small group within Motorola called Advanced Technology and Projects. Those projects just might provide a hint of where Motorala Mobility may be headed.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Silicon Valley, Google is shaking things up at its new subsidiary, Motorola Mobility. It announced yesterday it would lay off 4,000 workers; that's 20 percent of Motorola's global workforce. And as NPR's Steve Henn reports, Google is creating a small division, led by a technology star; hoping to spur innovation at the company that invented the cellphone.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Layoffs at any company are rough. But Charles Golvin, at Forrester Research, says it's likely employees at Motorola prefer what's going on there, to what's happening at some of their competitors right now.

CHARLES GOLVIN: Google is investing in hardware design and innovation.

HENN: But companies like Nokia and RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, are fighting for survival. In contrast, Google makes the world's most popular smartphone operating system - Google Android. And even though its new subsidiary, Motorola Mobility, lost a quarter of a billion dollars last quarter, Google is still immensely profitable. The challenge for Google, as it absorbs Motorola, will be to convince companies that make Android phones - like Samsung and HTC - that Google is still going to treat them fairly, when it comes to handing out new versions of Android.

GOLVIN: I think Samsung is concerned about it.

HENN: Golvin says Google has gone out of its way to reassure phone makers it works with - like Samsung - that...

GOLVIN: Whoever can deliver the best devices will win in the marketplace, not whoever has the best relationship with Google.

HENN: The message to phone makers has been, Google won't tip the scales in favor of Motorola using its software - even though Google now owns Motorola. But if Motorola can't get a leg up on the competition through software, it will have to compete in other ways. And that, say Google insiders, is where Regina Dugan comes in. Dugan was the first woman to lead DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

At DARPA, Dugan won praise from academics, scientists and military brass. She left DARPA this spring and is now heading up a small group within Motorola, called Advance Technology and Projects. At DARPA, Dugan was known for pushing her employees; asking them what they would do if they couldn't fail. Here, she's speaking at a recent TED conference.

REGINA DUGAN: If you really ask yourself this question, you can't help but feel uncomfortable because when you ask it, you begin to understand how the fear of failure constrains you.

HENN: At DARPA, Dugan backed research into advanced, domestic manufacturing techniques; and she challenged scientists to build lithium-ion batteries smaller than grains of sand. And these projects might just provide a hint of just where she wants to take Motorola Mobility in the future.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.