We had a chance to catch up for a minute with the man tasked with turning around Moto's phone business, Mobile Devices CEO Sanjay Jha, just moments before he went on stage to introduce the Backflip this week at CES. With Android getting more attention than ever before, it's never been a better time to sit down with a guy who's gone all-in with the platform, right? He talks Nexus One, Google, firmware updates, Blur, and more, so don't be shy -- read on for the full transcript!
CZ: So what is the, if you can talk a little bit about the justification for deciding whether a device gets Blur or whether it's a Google Experience Device? What influences that decision?
SJ: Really, I think if it's going to be a leading-edge Google product, then Google says, look, it's going to be my experience, and we will control the experience that you deliver, in which case we don't put our MOTOBLUR. But if we decide that it's our experience then it allows that. So it's really a matter of our relationship with Google on that one. And you'd find, for instance, that HTC... the Nexus doesn't have the Sense UI. It's the same kind of thing.
CZ: Exactly. So if we can compare this to the CLIQ, they're basically almost exactly the same size.
SJ: Yes, just slightly smaller, and as a result of which it kind of seems to be a little more gender-neutral. Women just love the keyboard. Men love the keyboard too. And you've got all of these symbols here. One other cool thing I didn't show you... it has a touch in the back. It has reverse touch, so you can control things and you can navigate here. When you're doing email and some of these things and you want to more precisely position the cursor. For instance I can enlarge the browser just by tapping the back. Sometimes that has an advantage and we actually think that when some of the developers have access to the API, they will do a bunch of cool things with reverse touch which will allow gaming and some other things to be done in a much better way.
CZ: Right. So there is a custom Motorola API for this device?
SJ: Well, in virtually every device we do, we stick with the standard API. But if we do things which are not standard, we publish the API.
CZ: Okay, so those are accessible to any developer that wants to develop for it?
SJ: To any developer, yeah.
CZ: Okay, great. I'm sure you've been getting this question a lot all day and I apologize, but what... give us your sense of what the Nexus One means for the market, because it's a fundamentally different way to approach the way that Android is sold and marketed. I think that this is something that Microsoft has been avoiding for years with Windows Mobile, right? They don't want to compete with their partners.
SJ: The way I think of it -- and I don't know if you were there yesterday or not...
CZ: We watched it.
SJ: I showed up quite late unfortunately, but this is a channel to the market that Google -- because they have so many visitors to the website -- can provide, and in some ways think about being able to introduce some innovation faster into the market. Now, the first device is HTC's device, the Nexus One, but I think that there will be multiple devices and I think that we said "yes" today that probably this next device is our device.
SJ: So, I see no great difference than selling it to, say, Best Buy or through Amazon on amazon.com or through carriers. It's another channel into the marketplace and the dynamics, I suspect, will be very similar of delivering these devices into the marketplace. Obviously, the experience is different to buy it on the website, but we don't know how that will play out yet. And I think probably Google will tell you that they don't know how it will play out. We're hoping that, as a result of that, we can get our innovations into the marketplace faster. That's probably the most optimistic view that one could take of what that could do. The other view is that it, you know, people that are used to buying their phones the way they do or devices the way they do, and it makes a modest amount of difference to how many devices ship through that channel. We just don't know. I mean, I'm very happy to support it and participate because it's something new in the industry, but, you know, it's not Google doing the hardware, it's that they're working with partners to deliver the hardware, and in some sense, you can look at the Droid -- that device is 2.0, and this is 2.1. The day that launches, 2.1 will be available to us and we'll upgrade the Droid to 2.1. So the software feature sets will be available completely to us.
CZ: And that speed of upgrade -- that's largely because of the fact that it's a Google Experience device, right?
SJ: No, I think that --
CZ: Not having Blur on there.
SJ: That's a very good point. The more you put beyond what Google gives you -- every time there's a new release of software, you have to update all the other software. So that is the only difference. But of course, we're very motivated -- like HTC with Sense UI, us with MOTOBLUR, and others -- to add our software to meet different needs so we can differentiate ourselves. But yeah, you're right, I think that if all we do is use Google software... well, they have made that 2.0-to-2.1 a fairly simple transition, so we could do that very quickly. But if we had MOTOBLUR on it, we'll then have to migrate MOTOBLUR to 2.1, and it'll take a little longer. But we think that overall that's the right thing to do.
CZ: Okay. Yeah, it seems like Google is moving in the direction of having a hero device for every release of Android. Droid for 2.0, Nexus One for 2.1...
SJ: Yeah, that's right. I think that's... there's a very good reason for it, which is that it's really difficult to deliver software with that level of integration. You can go back a little bit and look at what Microsoft did with their model, and I think that if you don't work very closely with hardware and software manufacturers together to deliver that experience, it's really difficult to deliver an integrated experience. And I completely understand why that makes sense. And you can't do ten devices one fine day, you gotta do one device. So I think it makes sense to me.
CZ: Right. It seems with the CLIQ and also with this new device that they're coming very close to infringing on, if not already infringing on, what AT&T is calling the "quick messaging" segment, right? The feature phones with full QWERTY keyboards. Is that something that you're kind of infringing on on purpose? You want to get into that market with the smartphones? With an entry-level smartphone?
SJ: I don't know if you were at the AT&T meeting today. It's just the direction that the industry is headed, which is smartphones are coming down-tier, and it is happening all the time, and of course, we are very motivated. And I've said a number of times that a core part of our strategy is to bring smartphones lower down the tier. So if we can offer better capability, more features, better mobile internet integration at a price point that used to be quick mobile messaging devices then I think that tier will have to shift. And I don't know that I've sat down and said, "let's go infringe on it," but that's the kind of...
CZ: That's where it's going.
SJ: That's where it's going.
CZ: And it seems like Android is to the point now where it can very effectively run on these older 528MHz MSM7200-class processors, and those cores certainly in 2010 will be lower-end cores. You're not going to those in high-end devices, right?
SJ: It's true, it's true, but if you look at 2.1, it has much more 3D capability. So to deliver a good 2.1 experience, I think, you know, the Nexus One has a gigahertz processor. You will see us deliver those gigahertz processors in the marketplace. I think that the impatience that the users have with the response to their input is such that I think that you will see the latest softwares generally requiring more processing. And, you know, all the right trends in the industry will drive that to open. But, as a result of it, slightly lower-tier devices can go pretty low in terms of price point.
CZ: Right. And to your comments and to Andy Rubin's comments yesterday, I think 2.1 requires 3D acceleration, is that right?
SJ: I believe it does, yeah. To do it effectively... I mean, you can do anything, you can emulate any 3D action, but to do it in a responsive way, I think it probably does.
CZ: So, as a result of that, do you think that will keep Android not necessarily in the higher end of the market, but midrange and above?
SJ: Yeah, I think that it's all just a matter of time, because the 3D cores are shrinking. As you know, I was in the chipset business at one time. Those cores are shrinking and I don't see any great reason why, in a short period of time, that doesn't come down to more tiers.
CZ (holding an XT800): Do you see this kind of form factor coming to other markets? Because right now, these are basically China-exclusive.
SJ: When you say this kind of format, you mean a tablet?
SJ: Yeah, we will bring tablet to US. Definitely bring tablet to US.
CZ: Okay. But you don't have any timeframe on that?
SJ: Not today. All I would say is in short order.