Part of the reason for this unevenness, compared with Nokia, LG and others, may well be the vision thing: Motorola was first to the dance with its Star-Tac 25 years ago, but has spent most of its time since then with little coherent sense of what its devices, and by extension its brand, ought to be like.
In conversation last week with Dickon Isaac, Motorola's North American design manager, the possible explanation of a "design mythology" came up: the idea that a set of universal aspirations are crucial for an organization to develop the drive and coherence necessary for real innovation and a unified identity, much as engineers in the 50s and 60s looked to the gee-whiz sci-fi of their youth for inspiration in developing the space program.In an effort to build such a mythology, 31 of Motorola's designers, from five different offices around the globe, have been dedicating a portion of their time since late last year to a project called "Motorola 2033." The initiative, under the auspices of the Consumer Experience Design team (CXD), uses the 25th anniversary of the mobile phone as an opportunity to imagine mobile device design 25 years on, resulting in a curious set of research-based blue sky concepts rooted in some fantastical, yet plausible suppositions. From Motorola's official release, these are:
>> Communication could be ambient, always on and people could live online
>> Computers and mobile devices could be embedded in the ordinary
>> "Using Software" could vanish; only interface and human interaction would remain
>> Device interaction could become natural, predictive and fluid so people could be free to relax
>> Molecular manufacturing could revolutionize production
>> Technology could outpace the brainâ€™s ability to absorb, intelligent 'agents' filter
>> Objects could access 'The Cloud' at will
The results range from the relatively obvious (a phone embedded in a ring), to the technologically unlikely ('Minority Report' style gestures and floating screens), and the genuinely inspiring--especially when they start leveraging the extensive non-US, non-Europe influence in their distributed team. With two of the five participating design studios located in Asia, and a third in Sao Paulo, the opportunity for some left-field concepts is strong, and from the descriptions and renderings it looks like they seized it, in the form of regionally-specific mission statements. The Seoul studio, for example, acknowledged Korea's world-beating rate of technology adoption ("Mobile devices are burden free and allow immersion in cyber space"), while Brazil's focused on community empowerment, and Chicago's on gestural interface and identity protection.
Of the remaining six concepts, three turn the device into a wearable object (Tattoo, Ring and Exo), two emphasize the longer term life-recording and -influencing effects of mobile devices (the shell-like MEM, and the Life Compass), and the Liquid Card goes the "floating screen" route which, depending on your willingness to suspend disbelief, is either ridiculous or awesome.
Any of these would make a worthwhile online video or mini-site, and though Motorola's keeping mum about next steps for developing these concepts, we're eager to hear more. Whether this satisfies the more crucial goal of creating a sturdy corporate mythology for the inspiration of future designers depends a lot on how far they run with it.