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Tech Talk

We gather here to remember Motorola

1/20/2016

Driving along Interstate 80 near Altoona, it is impossible to miss the three giant Facebook data centers being erected. Most people’s initial reaction to these warehouses is something along the lines of,  “Wow, those are huge,” or “That’s a lot of kitten and baby photos.” After the awe fades away, you realize those buildings are going to be there forever. If the zombie apocalypse happens, and humanity is wiped out, those data centers will still be there as an eternal eyesore commemorating our obsession with sharing every thought that comes through our heads. But while the physical buildings may last forever, the company they represent most likely will not.tech 1.21

Facebook disappearing is an odd thought to be sure, but not entirely unheard of. Would you believe the very company that invented and patented the cellular phone no longer exists? While you search the corners of your brain for who this possibly could be, just think of the very idea: As of February 2014, there were as many cellphone subscriptions as there are people on the planet. And at this point in its evolution, most users are on their fourth, fifth, possibly even sixth personal cellphone device. So the company that unleashed this innovation on the world should be enjoying an eternal supply of riches flowing, right? Instead, Motorola has fallen from the Olympus of tech to merely an answer in Trivial Pursuit.

Before the iPhone was the premiere mobile phone, Motorola was the longstanding king. Starting in 1992 with the “Motorola Personal Phone” (catchy name for sure) it seemed every cellular device the company developed became a smash success. Its mid-90s flip phone, “StarTAC,” was the most dominant cellphone ever released, the early 2000s Motorola Razor was the trendiest device of the pre-smartphone era, and the Motorola Droid was the first Android phone worthy of being dubbed a true competitor to the iPhone.

So what happened? Five years of lackluster product development and bad market karma from a soaring Droid line. Instead of investing in devices that met user demands, Motorola went to mass market appeal and developed low-end technology that ultimately didn’t interest anyone. Even when it seemed the company’s fading fortunes might be redeemed with its 2012 acquisition by Google and 2013 Moto X phone release, it sank even deeper when the market rejected the new offering and Google cut its losses, selling the company for less than the original purchase price. Today, instead of Motorola building its data centers in Altoona and leasing space to Facebook, the company is gone.

How does this apply to Facebook? Well, its current market dominance and omnipresent nature is not unlike what Motorola’s once was. Also, Facebook sells nothing. Motorola produced a good product that could be purchased and eventually replaced with a better Motorola product. Of course, Facebook is not alone; there are countless web services that face the same harrowing fate. Yahoo! is teetering on the brink of liquidating its assets and selling off its exclamation point. The thing that keeps most ad-based web sites solvent is user appeal and service innovation, hence Facebook’s acquisition of companies like Instagram and Occulus VR. Just as Facebook was starting to look passé, it integrated more fresh and attractive components.

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To be fair, only the name Motorola is dead. Its parent company, Lenovo, has decided to sunset the Motorola name, keeping only the product line name “Moto” alive until it, too, falls out of consumer favor. There’s no guarantee Facebook will meet the same warm corpse fate as Motorola, but if it does, those Altoona data centers will go from pride of a suburb to a testament to dead technology. CV

 Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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