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Motorola's MOTOMAGX (LJ) strategy
London is an amazing city, where certain miracles are known to happen from time to time. Back in May, when the RAZR2 debuted, we were sitting hand to hand with Motorola’s developers, drinking decent British ale, which made for a slow-paced and thoughtful chatter on the company’s plan. The last things that concerned us were sales outlook for solutions – our eyes were drawn to what was going on in R&D centers of different vendors. Then a representative of an opposing maker dropped in and joined the heated debates straight off. Should WiMax be in business communicators and who needs this? Perhaps only this environment can give birth to new ideas and concepts. That event brought a couple of articles to Mobile-Review, but the main write-up, the one on Motorola's strategy for 2007, if we may say so, its user aspect, as we talked about the maker’s offerings. I strongly recommend that you read it here, in case you happened to miss it.
Undoubtedly, that article is not an obligatory read, but highly advisable, so as to get into the thick of what is going on. Most of the things we shed some light on six months ago have already happened to this day. In this article we will be taking a glimpse at the company's strategy for one segment – Linux-powered solutions. Motorola already has at least two such device classes, and one more is to emerge in 2008. So basically, what we are going to do here is look into the OS versions and indexes, as well as their development.
Vocab – eZx, LJ, Android, MOTOMAGX
All these words, in one way or another, stand for Linux in the capacity of an operating system for mobile devices. Nevertheless, nobody outside the company has a good understanding what is what and how each abbreviation appeared. A couple of years ago I revealed the existence of the LJ (Linxu+Java) to our wide audience, however the fact that this is how Motorola calls the platform within its walls has never been realized by many, including journalists working on this market.
Before that moment there had been another abbreviation – JUIX (Java + Linux), however that project never brought any fruits after several years in the works. Eventually the company buried it, and as a result it never made it to consumer products. Nevertheless, due to that confusion around platform titles, we mistakenly relegated some solutions to JUIX-powered models, even though in reality there were no commercial products based on that platform.
So, historically, Motorola’s first Linux-based products came from the A-series, which was also the first case of implementing Linux into mobile phones. The niche these handsets aimed it was as clear-cut as it gets: higher than feature phones, a tad below smartphones (for instance, the rapidly developing Symbian solutions). December 2003 saw the debut of Motorola A760, and that’s was the time when we got to know the company’s intentions for Linux. That phone was running MontaVista Linux, whereas Trolltech's Qt/Embedded acted as the development tools. The philosophy of the A760 was right on the surface – allow for no third-party Linux applications, as they can provoke malfunctions on the device and thus leave the users critical of interface. Since the Motorola A760 was effectively available only in China and some Asian regions (unofficially), the solution didn’t set off any waves throughout the market. While it was a tidy touch screen enabled device housed in a quirky form-factor and packing in a ton of features, the company failed to take it out to the mass market.
The A760 was followed by the Motorola A780 that made its appearance in 2005. Around the same time they announced the concept of devices protected from outside intrusions. The company was careful not to grant full access to the operating system that had initially been available thanks to Trolltech’s products. Instead of that, the maker came up with an additional software level – the eZx, which all user applications in fact existed on. The necessity to complicate the concept of Linux-powered devices by introducing an add-on software layer had nothing to do with engineering (although they faced some technical difficulties as well, but those were solvable). The fact of the matter was that as per the license Linux is distributed under, users could have asked for the system’s source code, which would have allowed third-party developers to write own applications for these devices one way or another. There were forces in the company lobbying against this idea, so the compromise came along in the form of JVM for extending the core functionality. Long story short, that’s how the concept of Linux+Java was formed, becoming the driving power to bring about a whole platform.
However fleshing out a concept didn’t automatically mean that the LJ platform was born – devices that were being developed were all running the eZx. They were all designed for China, and nobody planned to spread them outside this region. The first attempts to break out of this market came along with the ROKR E2 (eZx, but with no touch-sensitive display) and the Motorola MING A1200. While the former music-minded phone never became a popular device and was supplied to select markets in limited quantities, the Motorola MING is a hot product in some regions these days. However its Chinese origins make for a vast grey market, as it retails for much less money in China.
The maker’s efforts to re-aim these models at the European market were a cry of despair, as they were trying to beef up the portfolio by all means at hand. Motorola’s sparing attempts to bring niche Windows Mobile solutions from the US market to Europe are pretty much of the same nature, and the truth is that they are not even remotely successful.
The real birthday of the LJ platform within the wall of Motorola’s office is the day when the development of the Motorola Z6 kicked off- this device was originally aimed at the Chinese, US and European markets at the same time. While the products running the eZx utilized MontaVista 2.4.20, the first LJ edition employed version 2.6.10. But apart from the differences in software, the new platform packed in new hardware as well, and that’s important – all LJ-based handsets enjoy single-CPU solutions, and starting from the Motorola Z6, it has always been FreeScale’s ARM11 CPU running at 400-600 Mhz (as a rule it is 500 Mhz in most devices).
Curiously, Motorola bound the LJ’s versions to kernel versions of MontaVista, this way, when the Motorola Z6 was rolled out in Q1 2007, MontaVista was at 2.6.10, so the company labeled its platform “L6.1”. Mind the fact that there are always two digits. As you have probably noticed, the platform is called LJ, although its versions have only a lone “L” in them, and this is not a typo.
Since there is a multitude of versions for various Linux builds, we couldn’t expect the versions to retain consecutive indexes – Q3 2007 saw the L6.3, by the New Year it was the L7.1 and early in 2008 there will be the L7.2.
I used to stumble upon opinions that the “6” in the LJ’s version referred to the Motorola Z”6”, hence the platform’s index. It is not the whole truth… well, honestly, it couldn’t be further from the truth. This digit has nothing to do with Motorola’s product line-up, it originates from the Linux kernel version used, and that’s it.
Now that we have done away with LJ’s versions and abbreviations, let’s move on to the MOTOMAGX. This title in effect reflects the company’s marketing activities. At some point in time, one of the company’s big bosses, when talking about the LJ platform, noted that it wasn’t the right thing to use a word that sounds so much like “LG”. They held a name contest among the staff, and that’s how they came up with “MOTOMAGX” (reads “Moto Magic”). Take a look at the block diagram, on what the MOTOMAGX is, below.
Let’s try to draw parallels with the world of Symbian. There is an operating system (Symbian) with various versions, for example, version 9.1; however, the OS version alone means nothing, for it only provides the construction yard, whereas it’s every maker’s task to build something on it and implement available features in a proper fashion. Nokia’s S60 platform (originally known as the Series 60) includes so-called editions, for example there are S60-powered devices running the third edition of the platform. Every edition is defined by the OS version and suite of default applications (user interface etc) and on top of that they set standards for developers.
The term “MOTOMAGX” matches “Symbian” meaning-wise, for it simply describes a bevy of devices powered by Linux and running on the LJ platform. While the S60 employs such thing as “Feature Pack”, the MOTOMAGX has none yet, since its development hasn’t gone too far as of today. So basically, the introduction of “MOTOMAGX” is an attempt to promote Motorola’s own brand rather than Linux alone. To most consumers Linux seems to be a monolithic system that doesn’t differ across platforms, be it an Internet-tablet like the Nokia N800 or a PC.
Interestingly, along with the release of the MOTOMAGX title, Motorola altered its vision of software development for its Linux-powered handsets. They announced that developers would get free versions of the SDK before the end of 2007 and would be able to create native Linux applications from that point on. There were many high-flown speeches about how much of a progress it was, how this release would stir up software developments and so forth. But effectively the company walked the same path as Symbian and Windows Mobile, the one it had dumped back in 2003 in view of certain ideological reasons. Today they need to make up for everything they have missed over this time, and make haste.
It is clear that the development tools for Java are a separate release that is available already today. At the same time, the Linux SDK will be attuned to the company’s needs (Trolltech's Qtopia Core development framework).
The thing that we haven’t covered yet is Open Handset Alliance’s Android, a coalition topped by Google. This OS is also based on Linux (although it’s a different version), and will be developed by 35 companies, including chipset, phone and software makers. While it might clash with MOTOMAGX-powered solutions, the overlapping areas will have more to do with the philosophy of products, since Android is a totally different branch of development.
Now that we are through what is what, let’s see how LJ-powered devices are positioned and what shares they occupy in the company’s portfolio.
Market outlook for LJ
Motorola is focusing on three platforms – Ajar (Motorola’s own platform), P2K (same), and Linux. Niche-oriented solutions may run on such operating systems as Symbian or Windows Mobile – these products are designed for particular markets/purposes, the company doesn’t strive to take them to the mass market. The P2K platform is very dated as of today, so the maker is withdrawing it from the market, but this will take some time; and in 2008 there will still be some solutions employing the P2K as well. At the same time Motorola will be increasing its portfolio of the Ajar in the segment of relatively cheap terminals, although first fiddle is now played by Linux-based products, whose share will be the biggest among other platforms.
LJ platform versions
We are not going to look at the LJ’s core functionality and standard suite of applications, rather, we would like to investigate the landmarks of this platform’s development, see what new features will bring and what aspects will be of most interest.
Note. The features described below are not obligatory for commercial products; the dates listed below have nothing to do with mobile phone release dates and rather indicate when support for features in question was added. One and the same phone can run on different platform versions, as it is up to the maker whether to introduce an update or not – long story short, the platform’s functionality is not equal to the abilities of a handset powered by it. All products belonging to the same generation are pretty much identical functionality-wise; the maker prefers step-by-step approach, which is especially apparent from the way the LJ’s interfaces evolve.
L6.1 – 1Q07/Motorola Z6
This is the basic version of the platform. Key technologies include only:
L6.3 – 3Q07/Motorola Z6 (update FW)
Improved connectivity, plus enhanced UI.
L7.1 – 4Q07/Motorola RAZR2 V8, Motorola U9
The morphing technology debuts, some models employ semi-morphing.
L7.1.1 – 4Q07/Motorola ****
L7.2 – 1Q-2Q08/Motorola ****
The most important version of the platform, as from this point on, it becomes open to developers. The foremost change is support for the JSR-271 (MIDP 3.0) specification. Below is a change log with improvements over the second version. What we would like to note is that Motorola picked the same road as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, who strive to avoid fragmentation of Java-specifications in every way possible:
The abilities of MIDP 3.0 are quite impressive, Firstly, it enables multiple concurrent applications in one VM, then allows MIDlets to draw to secondary display (which is the feat that no phone has got today), improved security. Secondly, it allows launching applications on the platform’s startup - the feature currently available with Symbian, yet missing in Java. So, in my unqualified opinion, as far as functionality is considered, the abyss between Symbian and Java applications is getting smaller at a fast pace.
Other key aspects include synchronization of music over WiFi, support for DLNA/UPnP. The platform’s multimedia abilities will be extended as well, thanks to digital television (DVB-H). Media Finder will get a revamped video tab for searching this type of content (with the ability to go out to the Web, however which services will be engaged is still unknown).
As for the features that I personally liked is the ability to view video and photo on the external display without having to flip the device open (for clamshells and models that are to come after the RAZR2).
This version will see a thorough revamp of the user interface, for example the pool of messaging feature will be expanded with Message Threading. Wi-Fi wizard and the ability to control applications from the external display are also to be embedded. Speaking of quirky features, there will be Push To Video (PTV) and contact’s status available from the phonebook (somewhat similar to today’s instant messaging).
Enterprise users’ needs will be addressed with remote device control features (device lock and ability to wipe all data).
L7.4 – 3Q08/Motorola ****
We won’t go through this version in detail, although it will be at the tip of the LJ’s development in the near term. This version will bring touch-screen enabled devices with no keypads, very similar to the iPhone, yet packing in standard functionality that we have come to expect from this maker’s products. Among interesting features of the L7.4 are support for MS Office documents (viewing), local mail synch with PC’s MS Outlook, mobile television (DVB-H), MotoWhere 2.0, automatic multimedia synchronization with PC over Wi-Fi, in some modes – over Bluetooth. The browser will obtain a password manager; plus the platform will introduce a full-fledged support for VoIP and the ability to switch between WWAN and WLAN.
I remember having a glimpse of the Motorola Morphing Tablet’s presentation, running on some speaker’s notebook at MotoDev, however its release is not even on the horizon – 2009 at best. That’s why we are not going to give a lowdown on it here, since its specs and looks are subject to change.
The LJ platform, also known as the MOTOMAGX is getting to be one of the market’s most interesting offerings. For the time being, the company is much more concerned about taking the platform further, rather than implementing it into its solutions. That’s the right thing to do, since Motorola’s product range is blatantly weak, and on the one hand, Motorola strives not to show everything it has up its sleeve prematurely, but it is also trying to introduce innovations into a couple of devices (whole line-ups) at a time. Starting from May 2008 the company will come to its senses and start rolling out various solutions.
P.S. I would like to thank Bryan M., without whom I would have never been able to get to MotoDev. Thank you.
Published 25 December 2007
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