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Motorola's Razr design daddy legs it, gets inside Intel

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Roger Jellicoe, the veteran engineer behind Motorola’s greatest hits – the MicroTAC, StarTAC and Razr – has joined Intel as a vice president at the newly formed Devices R&D team within its Mobile Communication Group (MCG). It's an awesome coup for Intel, and a loss for Google, after mass redundancies signalled the Chocolate Factory’s effective closure of Motorola as a top-tier phone manufacturer.

Google acquired Motorola Mobility in May, and plans to streamline the unit, which will become yet another limb of the Googleplex.

As a corporate VP at Motorola, Jellicoe was extremely senior. Corporate VPs don’t have to slum it in first class... they have, or at least once had, the authority to summon one of the seven company jets. A Brit – but based at Moto's offices in Libertyville, an hour north of Chicago – Jellicoe worked at Motorola for 37 years.

A first-rate engineer and inventor, Jellicoe is well known in the technical parts of the industry for understanding how to pull together complex projects. Razr started out as a hobby for the veep. Motorola’s design department, known as CXD – for Consumer Experience Design – had a habit of producing wacky, unworkable concept models. But Jellicoe saw the Razr and started to think that the phone could be a possibility.

There was a Motorola method by which the company decided upon which phones to manufacture: they had to be low risk from an engineering standpoint; there had to be demand from the networks; and there had to be engineering and software teams available. But Razr had none of these things. It was planned as a $1,000 phone at a time when the networks – who bought 80 per cent of the handsets – were only interested in driving down price.

Based on the Motorola process for choosing which phones to build, Razr should never have happened.

But Jellicoe pulled together a skunkworks of the brightest and the best, working evenings and weekends, to iron out the technical problems posed by the initial concept and bring the phone to market. He then went to Motorola's resident marketing guru – the late chief marketing officer, Geoffrey Frost – and the two execs used their influence to gain the Razr a precious space on the company's road-map.

There were some revolutionary production techniques in its creation process. For the first time, the glass of the screen was a major structural component of a mobile.

There were some glitches, too. Tim Parsey, then head of CXD, reportedly told Jellicoe that Razr would always be a low volume product as it wasn’t "possible" to make more than 50,000 keypads a month. And there were also huge antenna issues... At the time, one Moto rival who pulled an early Razr apart told your correspondent that the process for inserting the antenna into a Razr "could not have been automated" and would have to have been done by hand. But Jellicoe assured me that it was achieved by a mechanical process.

The mobile phone was initially forecast to sell 800,000 units and to "break even" – based on the sales of the V70. It sold 100,000,000 units.

One thing which Motorola could never see was just how good it was at hardware. There is a huge danger that its new owner, software giant Google, will repeat this error and shut down the areas which both regimes failed to appreciate. The departure of Jellicoe, for example, looks a lot like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. ®

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