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As Motorola battles for device sales, its engineers hit the sandbox

Company wants Rokr E8 to take off like its Razr phone did

January 24, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - At Motorola Inc., dozens of designers and engineers are busy working in Libertyville, Ill., and downtown Chicago to create the next hot mobile device that could lift the device maker's sagging revenues the way the first Razr phone did.

It's not so much Motorola's financial health that motivates the design teams, but the desire to create something new and that solves a set of technical needs while hitting a new level of hipness.

Motorola's Rokr E8 (Photo courtesy of Motorola Inc.)
One of Motorola's recent creations, the Rokr E8, was unveiled at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month where it won several awards. It ships in March worldwide, but no price has been announced and it hasn't been widely reviewed.

The Rokr E8, the fifth in the Rokr line that started in 2005, features a new ModeShift technology that transforms the device from a phone to a music player to a camera with the touch of a button. A spokeswoman said the ModeShift "declutters" the device's face by requiring only the buttons needed for a certain function to be visible. That means when a user is in camera mode, only camera buttons are visible under a 2mm thick plastic covering. The same goes when a user is playing music with images or when using it as a phone.

Rokr E8 specifications

Size: 4.5 by 2 by .4 inches
Weight: 3.5 ounces
Wireless band: GPRS/EDGE, also Bluetooth
Memory: 2GB internal memory, with optional 4GB external support
Display: 2 inches; 240 by 320
Camera: 2 megapixel camera with 8x zoom
Other: ModeShift transforms device from phone to music player to camera with the touch of a button. FastScroll navigation wheel allows scrolling through songs, contacts and images with the slide of a thumb.
Source: Motorola Inc.
"It has a cool, wow factor," said Roger Ady, director of engineering for Motorola's design unit. Ady worked on the phone for two years with a core group of engineers and designers that swelled from 10 to 50. A dozen patents are part of the device, most devoted to the ModeShift concept, which was still under development four years ago.

Ady admits he is biased about the E8. When talking about the device, he brings the enthusiasm of a college student, even though he has been designing for 24 years.

When describing his team's E8 creation, Ady sprinkles in technical descriptions such as "transflexive" and "piezoelectric actuators" with more prosaic comments such as, "It took technical magic. It was a huge challenge. ... The end result was what the designers wanted and what the user interface team wanted, a very simple interface for a very complex device."

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