A new Silicon Valley VC? A hoity-toity law firm? Maybe the latest power-chord rock trio?
No, just three execs with three different pedigrees when it comes to handling the confluence of technology hardware and software.
First, there's Padmasree Warrior, who left Motorola after 23 years, serving most recently as its chief technology officer, to wreak the same havoc at Cisco. Ms. Warrior's claim to fame is her conviction about "seamless mobility," which is one of those catch-phrases that feels like it's saying a lot generally, while not really saying anything in particular.
The last dozen or so iterations of Motorola have been stunningly unsuccessful at producing anything more than catch-phrases that might have momentarily mollified its stock critics, but consistently failed to manage the relationship between hardware and real life.
Mobile phones are about as mobile as you can get with communications these days, and there's little that's seamless about anything you do on a Motorola product (or any handheld, really). It's hard to wax poetic about postage-sized video ubiquity when calls get dropped, the interface is kinda kludgey, and customer service varies by carrier.
There's the rub.
Motorola is in the hardware business world, but its customers live in the hardware-meets-software-and-service world. It's grossly unfair, I know. Imagine if a musician recorded a brilliantly beautiful CD and then, when the player malfunctioned at a consumer's home, she blamed the band? Or how about a company builds a great car, but a buyer drives it into a foot-deep pothole...so he holds the automaker accountable for the road?
But that's the way it is.
So having a hardware vision of "seamless mobility" is kind of like architects designing an artistically perfect public square without accounting for the fact that people will actually have to walk, drive, use, or otherwise loiter in it.
It's not a hardware thing. If Cisco has imported this so-called vision, I humbly suggest that you sell its stock.
Greg Brown is the new CEO at Motorola, and he might have a slightly different take on hardware and software. Although publicly vowing to he'll stick to the politically-correct branding nonsense, he acknowledged in the Chicago Tribune that "...software will be an even more important driver of Motorola's success." He stated in the same interview that he wanted to focus also on "functionality," which sounds scarily gearheaded of him, but he actually ran a software company for a few years, so maybe there's hope.
Motorola needs as new gizmo like it needs a hole in the head, yet there are endless opportunities to build, market, and serve uses for devices that integrate communications -- not just talking, songs, and inane video clips, but information and knowledge, sometimes behind-the-scenes -- into everyday experience. We're going to be living in a world of ubiquitous information sooner vs. later (see yesterday's and last Friday's Dim Bulb entries on the nascent world of Augmented Reality, or "AR"), which will entail connecting every one to everyone else.
Call that future "seamless mobility" or call it "Fred." Just do it. There's a slight, course-reversing sort of possibility that Motorola might actually build hardware and software combinations, and thus become relevant again.
Speaking of relevance, there's Jon Rubinstein now running Palm.
Here's a guy who lived with one foot each in hardware and software during Apple's rebirth last decade, and helped conceive and deliver home-runs like the original iMac and the iPod mp3 player. These elegantly designed hardware artifacts (remember the iMac teardrop?) would be incomplete without the software and services that support them. In fact, in the case of iPod, one could argue that it wouldn’t matter much at all without iTunes as an integral component. Apple's products fully blur the line between hardware and software.
Palm is pretty much only a blur. Maybe a smudge.
It has given up its relevance, and much market share, to other hardware companies. Now Apple has entered the fray with iPhone. The world needs another handheld manufacturer like, well, like Motorola needs a new gizmo, and that fact probably weighs heavily on Rubinstein’s mind as he is reportedly frantic with efforts to shore up the quality of Palm’s hardware.
I suspect what he’ll accomplish next, however, is come up with products, software, and services that are truly integrated.
There's little reason to believe that Cisco's Warrior even grasps the potential for such an approach, or that Motorola's Brown will be able to steer such a mismanaged, giant ship in its direction. But Rubinstein could do it with Palm, mostly because 1) he's done it before, more than once, and b) Palm is small and desperate enough to actually make it happen. After all, these are the guys who pretty much invented the PDA category, didn't they?
If this dim bulb had to bet, that's where I'd put my money.