Motoblur software could pit Motorola as competitor to Yahoo

T-Mobile, Motorola expect Cliq's software will appeal to social networking customers

SAN DIEGO -- The Motorola Cliq smartphone, on display for the first time at the International CTIA show this week, has attractive hardware features such as a touch screen atop a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, but its new Motoblur software could be its most important novelty.

With Motoblur, which uses the Android operating system and interface, users will be able to combine up to 10 social networking sites and other applications, such as work e-mail and photo tools, on a single home screen.

Several CTIA attendees who visited the Motoblur booth said they had trouble understanding Motoblur or its value -- a reaction that could pose a challenge for T-Mobile USA, which will begin selling the Cliq nationwide on Nov. 2, at a price of $200.

However, spokeswomen for both T-Mobile and Motorola Inc. said they don't expect much confusion over Motoblur from buyers, whom they predict will mostly be in their 20s and 30s and will be interested in quick home page access to updates from friends and co-workers on various social networking sites, alongside their work e-mail or other applications. While that capability might not appeal to all ages and types of cell phone users, the younger, more socially connected group is clearly driving the explosion in data usage witnessed by the nation's wireless carriers.

In addition to combining applications on a single home screen, users of Motoblur will be able to keep up to five separate home screens a single swipe away from one another. That means, for example, that a user could put work applications on one home screen, then swipe left or right to use personal applications on another of the five screens.

People whose lives involve various jobs or roles, or who are active in various social networks, might find Motoblur's organization scheme valuable. Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney recently said that, with the Motoblur software and the Android operating system, the Cliq offered a good combination of the software functions available in the iPhone and Windows Mobile and Nokia phones.

What is evident with the Cliq and some other smartphones is that their designs are moving into a second or third stage of evolution where software services such as Motoblur, rather than hardware features, offer buyers new choices. That's a shift from two years ago, when the iPhone caught the world by storm with a radical new touch-screen design and related interface.

In fact, Motoblur software takes Motorola and the Cliq into an area of services that, until now, seemed to have been the domain of software companies like Yahoo Inc., which for a while has offered smartphone and cell phone tools that provide access to social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, alongside e-mail on a single screen.

Yahoo focuses its application and services development on social networking and e-mail because they are the applications people always come back to, said David Ko, senior vice president for Yahoo Mobile in an interview. The My Favorites tab on Yahoo's mobile home page is an example of that, because it lets users see at a glance the social networking sites and e-mail accounts they use.

Such organization is valuable because when a user loads 60 or so applications onto a phone, he won't use all of them. "One thing we all have to think about as a trend is the potential for app fatigue," Ko said.

Yahoo's My favorites tab is similar to what Motoblur is beginning to do, although Motoblur was designed by a cell-phone maker. In effect, Motoblur is a sign that Motorola is looking at smartphones in the same way that Apple Inc. did when it designed a complete hardware and software package for the iPhone.

In an interview, Ko seemed reluctant to say that Yahoo could be competing with Motorola and Motoblur. Yahoo, he said, is focused on developing applications and services, not on getting into new product areas like mobile phone software. And he was diplomatic in describing what Motorola seems to be doing.

"Motorola to me is known for selling handsets," Ko said. "Today, if they want to go and think about how they want to develop different things to increase adoption, that's great and will only help the ecosystem. We will continue to partner with them to make sure our services work well."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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