A snapshot of the last several years in Motorola’s history shows a company in flux, culminating last week, when the smartphone manufacturer’s sale to Google was finally given the green light. After undergoing governmental scrutiny from the US, China and the EU, the move, priced at around $12.5 billion, seems a logical fit, given the phone maker’s push toward a portfolio built nearly exclusively around the search giant’s mobile operating system. Of course, it’s hard to imagine such a transaction taking place, had the Mobility wing not been spun off from Motorola a year and a half prior.
These are the latest events for a company that has undergone a fair amount of change in its 80-plus-year existence. It’s a long and fascinating story — one likely hazy at best for those who can only remember as far back as the original RAZR or StarTAC. So, before the company embarks on the next chapter of its history, let’s take a quick look back, after the break.
The Early Years
Before it was a international telecommunications giant, Motorola was the name of a car radio. The moniker was an amalgam of sorts, the “motor” pulled from “motorcar” paired up with “-ola,” to signify sound. The Motorola car radio was released by the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation in 1930, two years after the company’s founding in Chicago, kicking things off with a battery eliminator, aimed at letting battery-powered home radios run off of household electricity. The company was launched by two brothers, Joseph and Paul Galvin, the latter of whom reportedly bestowed the car radio with its soon-to-be-famous name.
The same year it was released, the Motorola became Galvin’s first internationally sold product — albeit on a fairly small scale, moving two units in Mexico City. Not an epic feat by any stretch, sure, but companies rarely become multinational presences overnight. In 1947, the company dropped the name of its founders in favor of a punchier moniker borrowed from its early car stereo — a name that meant “sound in motion,” according to the company line. A fitting switch, in light of the Galvins’ embrace of all things radio, including models for the home, police cruisers and two-way units like the Handie-Talkie, which would be put to use on the battlefields of WWII. The company wouldn’t adopt the now familiar “M” Motorola logo for nearly another decade, favoring a decidedly less iconic, cursive font for the time being.
Motorola also provided the radio technology for Apollo 11’s moon landing.
Motorola even flirted with an early version of the car phone in 1946, developing the Car Radiotelephone for Illinois Bell. Newly rechristened, the company found more success with 1947’s Golden View Television, a seven-inch set that sold at a reasonable $190. In the ’60s, the company would go cordless with the 19-inch Astronaut TV, offer up color tubes and cap off the decade with another large leap — providing radio technology for Apollo 11’s moon landing.
Birth of the Cellphone
In 1973, Motorola took some major steps toward the technology that would define it in the decades to come, showing off the DynaTAC and demonstrating the phenomenon of cellular telephones to the world. It wasn’t until 1984 that the brick-sized phone would actually start making its way into the hands of consumers. The 80s also saw the development of Six Sigma, a quality control strategy aimed at nearly error-free products. By the end of the decade, the MicroTAC hit the market, dropping down the size and weight a good deal and shifting toward a flip phone form factor. That handset was succeeded in 1996 by the truly iconic StarTAC, a (relatively) tiny, “wearable” handset that popularized the clamshell design and brought the vibrate option over from the pager side of Motorola’s business.
Into The Smartphone Era
Motorola had another giant hit on its hands with 2004’s RAZR, pushing the boundaries of cell phone size — and fashion — yet again, becoming the best-selling clamshell ever made. By the end of decade, Motorola had shifted its focus to Google’s Android, in a bid to get on-board with the smartphone explosion set off by the iPhone and its ilk. The company attempted to put its stamp on the mobile operating system with the MotoBlur skin, much to chagrin of users and critics. In October 2009, the company bucked the trend away from physical keyboards with the release of the Droid, an Android 2.0 slider with a Lucasfilm-licensed name that Motorola would borrow for a slew of subsequent handsets.
2004’s RAZR became the best-selling clamshell ever made.
The company kicked off 2011 with a rift. After years of discussions, it was split into two parts: Motorola Solutions, an enterprise- and government-facing wing, and Motorola Mobility, specializing in handsets and set-top boxes. In August of last year, Google announced that it would be acquiringMobility for around $12.5 billion, a deal that would close nearly nine months after it was first made public.