Silence is only fueling Motorola's Marshmallow meltdown

Maybe Motorola could have redeemed itself. Maybe. But this isn't the way to do it -- and the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Motorola Marshmallow Meltdown

It would have been bad enough if any Android manufacturer had left two recent high-profile phones off its Marshmallow upgrade list.

It would have been bad enough if one of those phones had been last year's flagship.

It would have been bad enough if the other had been released a mere eight months ago.

It would have been bad enough if one of the phones had been sold specifically under the promise of "great customer service and software upgrades that continue long after you buy" it.

And it would have been bad enough if the manufacturer in question were Motorola -- a company that built its entire reputation around the promise of timely and ongoing upgrades.

Any of those elements on its own would have made for a difficult-to-defend mess of a situation. But the saga we're watching unfold right now includes them all -- and somehow, it just keeps getting worse.

Motorola, Marshmallow, and the sound of silence

It's been more than a week now since Motorola indirectly informed its customers that neither the U.S. carrier-connected models of its 2014 flagship Moto X phone nor any models of its unlocked 2015 or 2014 Moto E phone were slated to receive the Android 6.0 Marshmallow upgrade. Motorola broke the news by posting a blog on a Friday afternoon -- a favorite time for sharing not-so-favorable news -- in which those phones were merely not mentioned as part of the company's upgrade plans.

As consumers and the media alike have expressed disappointment and asked for answers, Motorola -- the company lauded for its excellent communication with customers less than two years ago -- has remained silent. The manufacturer's official forum continues to be flooded with messages from angry users, as do broader social media channels like Twitter and Google+. Yet more than a week after dropping its unexpected bombshell, the company has yet to provide any additional information or respond to press inquiries on the subject.

Motorola could have offered some sort of explanation -- some rational reason for why it's breaking its word and leaving behind loyal customers it had pledged to support. The company could have made a gesture, like the $100 discount it offered to users when Google first took over the original mess of Motorola and had to stop supporting some existing models as part of the transition (even though those devices didn't actually include overt upgrade promises, as today's Motorola phones do). Such a gesture might not have made everyone feel better, but it would have at least shown an iota of respect -- shown that someone in this ever-evolving organization still cares, even a little.

But instead, all we got was an insult by omission -- a promise broken without the decency of an explanation, an apology, or a response to the inevitable backlash. The way this whole situation has been handled is as much a slap in the face to customers as was the actual decision itself.

There's a commonly cited theory in PR that silence can smother any fire. Keep quiet long enough, and the flames will die down. Then it's back to business as usual, as if nothing ever happened.

And you know what? Sooner or later, the anger will subside. People will stop shouting. The world will indeed move on.

But while smothering the fire, Motorola's silence is also extinguishing the spark that made the company special -- the glowing warmth that caused Android enthusiasts to rally around its efforts and develop a sense of loyalty toward its goals. The smoke of rage may dissipate, but so too will the good will this recently reinvented company worked so hard to create.

Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words ever could.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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