Has Motorola pinned all its hopes on Droid?

15 Jan 2010

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The Droid smart phone from Motorola based on Google’s Android operating system features a slightly higher bill of materials at US$187 compared with the HTC-manufactured and Google-branded Nexus One, which costs US$174 to manufacture.

Yet despite Google surprising everyone with its own-branded device, one-time global mobile leader Motorola has pinned all its hopes for growth on the Droid device.

According to iSuppli, the Droid contains US$179.11 worth of electronic components and costs a further US$8.64 to manufacture. This does not take into account other expenses, such as software and royalties.

It also gives the Droid a component cost similar to other comparable smart phones launched in the last year, including the Apple 3GS and Google Nexus One.

‘A critical product’

But can Droid save the day for Motorola? “Motorola has pinned all its hopes on one little Droid,” said Andrew Rassweiler, director and principal analyst, teardown services, for iSuppli.

“Indeed, the Droid is a critical product for Motorola, which has suffered from dwindling market share and declining market relevancy over the past few years. The last hit phone for Motorola was the RAZR, launched in 2003.

“Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, multiple companies have found some success by offering competing smart phones, including Palm, HTC, Samsung and LG. For Motorola, the Droid represents an attempt to get on the comeback trail with a competitive smart-phone product.”

Motorola’s share of global mobile-phone shipments has been sliding over the past three years. The company accounted for 5.4pc of worldwide unit shipments in the second quarter of 2009, down from 22.5pc in the second quarter of 2006.

Motorola’s rank

Motorola’s ranking in the global mobile-phone business has declined in concert with its falling market share. The company in the third quarter of 2009 held the No-5 rank worldwide, down from fourth place in the second quarter. As recently as the first quarter of 2007, the company was the world’s second-largest mobile-phone shipper after Nokia.

With the Droid, Motorola has taken its hardware cues from other so-called iPhone killers, including the Palm Pre, the HTC Magic and the LG Voyager. These features include a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a high-resolution, 5-megapixel camera module, upgradeable memory and a removable battery.

“With the inclusion of all these features, Motorola is attempting to address what it considers to be shortcomings in the iPhone,” Rassweiler said.

“However, at the end of the day, it’s Google’s software that will determine how well the device actually operates. This is critical because whatever the perceived shortcomings of the iPhone’s features, it’s the actual user experience that has made it so popular. The real lesson of the iPhone is how well the whole device comes together and actually functions, not how many features it has.”

MicroSD slot included

A major differentiating feature between the Droid and the iPhone is the inclusion of a microSD slot for adding additional NAND flash memory to store user data and content, such as apps and video and audio files.

The Droid comes bundled with a removable microSD card that contains 16GB of NAND flash memory, the same density embedded inside the high-end model of the iPhone 3GS. At US$35, the microSD card is the Droid’s most expensive single component.

Looking inside the Droid, the device features a 3.7-inch TFT LCD display with 16 million colours and a resolution of 854×480 pixels. At US$17.75, this display is the most expensive component integrated within the enclosure of the Droid. The capacitive touchscreen/overlay is also a noteworthy component that supports the Droid touchscreen interface, with a cost of US$17.50.

The camera module appears to be sporting a new type of auto focus actuation technology that iSuppli’s Teardown Analysis Service has not previously seen, and still has not yet been identified.

iSuppli hypothesises that this may be bimetallic strips that are heat actuated. In contrast, most auto-focus camera modules at this scale feature voice-coil actuation. The Droid module features a 5-megapixel CMOS sensor, and the whole module is priced at US$14.25.

What the chip supports

The core semiconductor in the Droid is the US$14.04 baseband processor/radio frequency chip supplied by Qualcomm Inc. The chip supports the CDMA2000 1x and EV-DO air standards, the global positioning system (GPS) and tri-band 800MHz/1900MHz/AWS(1700/2100MHz) frequencies.

Texas Instruments Inc. is the supplier of the Droid’s applications processor, priced at US$12.90, as well as the Bluetooth/WLAN/FM transmitter and receiver, at US$6.50.

Beyond the top cost drivers, one other interesting item in the Droid is the use of two silicon microphones from Knowles, presumably to provide noise cancellation, although no dedicated audio codec was found to support this feature.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The Motorola Droid

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com