IntoMobile Perspective: How Motorola went from the car, to the moon and finally your pocket

This is the third installment in our ongoing series about the businesses that made the wireless industry what it is today. We’ve already taken a look at LG and HTC. Now, it’s time to focus on an American manufacturer, Motorola. We will start with a history of Motorola and then cover some of the company’s important mobile phones.

Company History

Many equate Motorola with the DROID or the RAZR, but the company has a diverse product lineup and a history that spans more than 80 years. Motorola had its beginning in 1928 when Paul V. Galvin and his brother Joseph founded the Galvin Manufacturing company in Chicago, Illinois. The company’s first product was a battery eliminator that let customers run a battery-powered radio on household electricity.

A few years later in 1930, the company introduced its first car radio which was branded with the name Motorola. Motorola meant “sound in motion” and was taken from “Motor” for motorcar and “Ola” which implied sound. During the next ten years, Galvin Manufacturing expanded its radio portfolio to include police radio receivers and other two-way radios for public safety officers. The company even made the “Handie Talkie” SCR536 AM radio, which was used by soldiers in World War II. Its radio products became so popular that  Galvin Manufacturing Company officially changed its name to Motorola, Inc  in 1947.

During the next six years, Motorola expanded its successful radio division and jumped into the television business. By 1954, over 70 percent of Motorola’s sales came from home radios, car radios and TVs. To recognize its innovation, the company re-designed its logo in 1955 and adopted the stylized, double triangle M that we all know and love.

During the 60s and 70s, Motorola refined its television and radio technology. Most notably, it played a role in sending voice communications from the moon to the earth during Apollo 11’s historic flight. Motorola’s experience with radio technology helped the company when it started work on a cellular-based communication system in the late 1960s. It took 15 years of research and $100 million dollars to get this system up and running. In 1983, all that hard work paid off and Motorola introduced the DynaTAC 8000x, the world’s first commercial, handheld cellular phone that ran on the world’s first cellular-based communications system. The DynaTAC phone was approved by the FCC in 1983 and went on sale in 1984. DynaTAC, if you’re wondering, refers to Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage.

Motorola used the 80s and early 90s to improve its cellular technology. The company unveiled the reasonably-sized MicroTAC flip phone in April 1989 and the compact StarTac clam shell cellular phone in 1996. It also demonstrated the world’s first GSM cellular system in 1991 and the world’s first iDEN technology in 1994.

In the 2000s, Motorola continued its string of “world’s first” technology advances with the world’s first GPRS cellular system, the world’s first PDA handset that combined a Linux operating system and Java technology, the world’s first WiMAX handoff, and the world’s first 700 MHz LTE network demonstration. It was also during this time that the company introduced the wildly successful RAZR line of clamshell feature phones, which propelled Motorola to the #2 slot in the global mobile phone industry.

Motorola and its Razr handsets had a great run, but the 4LTR series didn’t stay very long at the top. Once smartphones started flooding the market, consumers quickly replaced their beloved flip phones with qwerty-based smartphones from RIM and the iPhone from Apple. Motorola floundered in the smartphone market until it introduced the DROID, an Android-powered smartphone for Verizon Wireless. The edgy DROID commercials and Verizon’s reliable network coverage gave a boost to Android, which was launched by HTC, Google and the G1. The DROID may have  made headlines as one of the first commercially successful Android phones, but later versions of the handset were not as popular as the original model. In the past few years, the company has been criticized for locking the bootloader on its Android phones and for MotoBlur, its custom skin that overlays Google’s Android OS.

Even though the company turned away from  low-cost feature phones and started to focus on Android-powered smartphones, Motorola’s mobile phone business continued to slide. In 2011, the decades-old company made the difficult decision to split into two separate companies. The handset and cable set-top box divisions were spun off into Motorola Mobility, while the radio and scanner business became Motorola Solutions. In August 2011, Google announced that it was acquiring Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The acquisition was finalized in May 2012. Google confirmed it will run Motorola Mobility as a separate company.

Notable Phones


The DynaTAC was the world’s first commercially available cellular phone. The first model, the 8000x, went on sale in March 1983 for a whopping $4000. It featured an LED display that was used to dial one of 30 stored phone numbers and offered a talk time of 30 minutes. It worked on AMPS, an analog cellular system developed by Bell Labs in the 1970s. It was a large phone, weighing 28 ounces and measuring 10-inches high. It also coined the term “Zack Morris” phone after the Saved By The Bell character, who used this brick-style phone on the popular late 80s television show.

Motorola demonstrated the world’s first cellular phone call in public in 1973. Former Motorola Vice President and division manager, Martin Cooper tested the DynaTAC phone as part of a publicity stunt to get the FCC to allocate the frequency it needed for the company’s cellular technology.

Cooper strolled outside onto Sixth Avenue in NYC near the New York Hilton Hotel. Standing in front of a crowd of reporters and passer-bys, he held a prototype DynaTAC 8000x that weighed 2.5 lbs to his face and made the world’s first, public cellular phone call. He dialed Joel Engel of Bell Labs using a cellular base station on the roof of a nearby building. He talked briefly and then went inside for his meeting. Cooper was instrumental to the development of the 8000x and other cellular phones. Cooper said his idea for mobile phones was inspired by Captain Kirk and his Star Trek communicator.


Released in 1996, the StarTAC was the world’s first compact clamshell-style, flip phone. It replaced the DynaTAC and the MicroTAC. Unlike its predecessors, the StarTAC was tiny, measuring 94mm x 55mm x 19mm and weighing 3.1 ounces. It included an optional Lithium-ion battery and was one of the first mobile phones to use a vibrate alert. It was priced at $1000 when it debuted in the North American market.

The StarTAC was popular among consumers and a Hollywood favorite because of its small size. The phone appeared in several movies, including Nicholas Cage’s 8mm and Scream 2. In 2005, it was named one of the top 50 gadgets of the last 50 years by PC World. Motorola sold 60 million units during the handset’s brief run in the late 1990s.


In the 2000s, Motorola revolutionized the feature phone business with its RAZR line of handsets. The flagship RAZR V3 was released in Q3 2004 and was the first of many phones in the company’s 4LTR (four letter name) series. It was wildly popular and the RAZR series sold more than 130 million units in four years.

The V3 was known for its sleek, ultra-thin styling which included a luminescent keypad designed from a thin sheet of metal, a mini USB charging port, a headphone jack, an aluminum body and an external glass-covered LCD. Several variations of the RAZR  V3 handset landed on both CDMA and GSM carriers worldwide. Even Ferrari contributed its name to a branded version of the phone.

Hollywood was smitten by the fashionable flip phone and included a black version of the RAZR in the 77th Academy Awards gift bags. The RAZR also starred in several movies and TV shows including Lost, Burn Notice, Treasure Hunters, Torchwood and more.

The RAZR brand was resurrected in 2011 when Motorola launched a new series of Android phones with the DROID RAZR name. The original DROID RAZR was advertised as the “world’s thinnest 4G smartphone” when it debuted late in 2011 on Verizon Wireless. A DROID RAZR MAXX version with a high-capacity battery went on sale shortly after the launch of the DROID RAZR.

Motorola MPx200

The MPx200 was a joint venture between Motorola’s handset division and Microsoft’s mobile software division. Along with the Samsung i600, the flip-style MPx200 was one of the first commercially successful Windows Mobile smartphones in the US.

The MPx200 ran the Smartphone version of Pocket PC 2002, which was designed for non-touchscreen phones. AT&T was the exclusive carrier for the MPx200 when it launched in the US in late 2003. A Cingular version was also spotted in the wild, but that version of the handset never made its way to retail shelves.

The MPx200 was powered by a 133MHz TI OMAP 710 processor that was nestled inside a standard flip phone body. There was no QWERTY keyboard, just the standard numeric keypad with a few extra keys essential for the smartphone OS. Other hardware features for the MPx200 include a primary 2.2-inch, 16-bit color display, a secondary 8-x48 monochrome display, 32MB of RAM, 16MB of internal storage, SD expansion and triband GSM connectivity (900/1800/1900).



The Motorola DROID was launched in October 2009 on Verizon Wireless and was Motorola’s first Android handset. The phone also launched in Europe in November 2009 as the Milestone. The DROID was known for its pure Android OS and its unlocked bootloader, which let owners flash a new ROM to the handset.

It launched with a barrage of high-profile advertisements from Verizon Wireless that were targeted directly at Apple’s iPhone. The slick advertising was successful as some analysts estimated Motorola sold 1M DROID handsets in the first 74 days after launch, a rate that exceeded the sales of the original iPhone.

The side slider included a 600MHZ TIM OMAP3430 processor, a 3.7-inch touchscreen display with 480×854 resolution, 256MB RAM, 512MB RIM, a 5-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, microUSB charging, microSD expansion, and Android 2.0.

On The Horizon

Motorola has failed to duplicate the success of the RAZR and, consequently, has struggled over the past few years. The DROID may have  made headlines as the first commercially successful Android phone, but subsequent versions of the handset were not as popular as the first model. As a result, Motorola has slipped from its #2 spot in the world to #9 in Q2 2012. Now that Google owns Motorola, we are hopeful that the handset maker will begin to reverse its downward course and release handsets that are innovative and cutting edge, just like it did back in the day with the StarTAC and the original RAZR.

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