Why Motorola’s Plan to Scale Back on Smartphones in 2012 Is a Wise Move

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In a private meeting with a handful of reporters during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Motorola Mobility Chairman and CEO Sanjay Jha (pictured above) revealed his company’s strategy to produce fewer smartphone models over the coming year.

“Looking forward, I think you should expect fewer models from us and a focus on more thoughtful designs,” said Jha, who made the remarks shortly before joining Intel CEO Paul Otellini at a press event to announce a multi-year partnership to use Intel’s upcoming line of smartphone processors in future Motorola handsets.

(MORE: Intel’s Big Double Push for 2012: Ultrabooks and Smartphones)

Reflecting on his company’s performance in 2011, Jha remarked, “I think there’s a recognition that we’ve had a lot of good ideas, but because we’ve had a lot of good ideas, no one idea has broken through for us. So we want to put up marketing dollars that drive our thinking and make it relevant to the marketplace. You shouldn’t just expect fewer models from us, you should expect us to present fewer ideas and a push to make those ideas meaningful in the marketplace.”

Such an approach has been relatively uncommon among Android manufacturers, who have been busy stuffing a seemingly endless array of features into handset after handset, but Motorola’s recent announcement of the Droid Razr MAXX may foreshadow what we can expect from Jha and his team this year. While the phone itself stacks up pretty evenly against competing Android handsets, Motorola has clearly marketed one feature as the Razr MAXX’s main selling point: battery life of over 20 hours on a single charge despite a thickness of just 0.35 inches.

“What drives us to do fewer phones is a couple of things. One is marketing dollars. Really, the big one is marketing dollars. The second thing is focusing on some experiences, and getting it to a level that it can actually solve consumer problems,” said Jha.

In his writeup of the Droid Razr MAXX, our own Jared Newman says, “Smartphone battery life is an issue dear to my heart. It bothers me that today’s smartphones can’t last through the day unless you carefully monitor screen brightness and background updates while keeping your usage in check. It’s about time smartphone makers started taking this seriously.” Motorola’s goal of solving a common consumer problem – lackluster battery life — seems to be working already.

(MORE: Motorola’s Droid Razr MAXX Almost Achieves the 24-Hour Battery)

Jha clarified that his company won’t be cutting back on what it spends to market its phones, just that it’ll be able to allocate more money to market each handset: “Whatever dollars we spend will be spent on fewer products. So per product, I will have greater marketing focus.”

That strategy may seem counterintuitive in a market filled with a steady stream of new Android smartphones that seem to one-up each other on a weekly basis, but Jha is hoping that focusing his company’s efforts and resources will ultimately make Motorola handsets more appealing. A similar strategy is employed by another successful smartphone maker: Apple. It brings out one new iPhone model (iPhone 4S), discounts its predecessor (iPhone 4) and double discounts the one before that (iPhone 3GS). Can you name all of Motorola’s current Android phones?

Jha seems to equate the market’s abundance of Android phones to a sort of wheel-spinning, saying, “I think having a lot of products which are roughly the same in the marketplace doesn’t drive the market to a new place. Newer innovations drive the market to a new place. The differentiation that all of us — Android and elsewhere – are trying to bring to the marketplace is there: HTC has something, Samsung has something, we have something. But I think that with fewer products, we can make that differentiation a sharp point of distinction and have the marketing dollars to get that message across. I think nearly everyone is waking up to the notion that consumer overchoice has not driven the market.”

(MORE: Check out Techland’s coverage of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show)