John Pletz On Technology

Moto’s new Razr has a very familiar pedigree

The phone with a foldable screen started as a skunkworks project in Libertyville seven years ago.

Motorola

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79彩票注册网址It’s fitting that when Motorola Mobility joined the fray to create the next big thing—phones with foldable screens—it looked to Chicago, reviving its most storied nameplate, the Razr.

The phone is expected to when it hits stores early this year. Motorola had expected to begin taking pre-orders Dec. 26 but delayed the launch because of what it says was high demand.

The Chicago connection is deeper than the name. Motorola is the company that developed , making the first commercial call from Soldier Field.

“Ninety percent of the work was done in Chicago, which includes labs and in-house design,” Motorola spokeswoman Sarah Cooney says of the new phone.

In its heyday, Motorola’s phone unit employed tens of thousands in Chicago. Now it has just a few hundred (parent Lenovo won’t disclose the exact number), including the engineering team that worked on the latest Razr.

79彩票注册网址The R&D involved dates back to 2012 and a skunkworks project in Libertyville, where Moto’s mobile unit was based before it was bought by Google, which later sold it to Lenovo.

“Everyone knew that 5G would be coming, which would enable things like videoconferencing, gaming, (augmented reality) and (virtual reality),” said Iqbal Arshad79彩票注册网址, who was head of engineering and global product development until 2016. “We knew the future of computing was mobile.”

But that meant an even bigger screen.

“The practicality of the glass screen is limited—there’s a limit on the size of what’s pocketable,” says Arshad, who is a visiting scholar at Northwestern University’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics and an industry consultant.

A foldable screen would solve that problem, except glass doesn’t bend well. Plastic bends, but it also scratches. How the company solved the challenge goes back 10 years to the Droid, the line of smartphones that was then-CEO Sanjay Jha’s Hail Mary pass79彩票注册网址 to get Moto back in the game after it got lapped by the iPhone.

Six years later, Moto brought out a version of the Droid called the Turbo 2, which featured something the company called , or an unbreakable plastic screen.

79彩票注册网址In the meantime, a new technology called OLED allowed for thinner screens (and higher contrast) than earlier LCDs. Moto decided to push the envelope.

79彩票注册网址“It was a huge gamble,” Arshad says.

Moto spent millions developing the ShatterShield, he says. But a foldable phone screen was still a few years away.

“The only thing missing was the manufacturing technology to give you the right bend radius of the screen,” Arshad said. So the team kept toiling away. “We even hired an expert from Argonne to help with the materials design. There were so many manufacturing challenges.”

79彩票注册网址Among them: a flexible display that was plastic, flexible printed circuit boards, custom battery architecture, cameras and other components, and flexible circuitry.

79彩票注册网址“The biggest hurdle was in the supply chain,” Arshad says.

Ultimately, they developed multiple prototypes. It wasn’t until 2015 that Lenovo decided to move ahead with what became the newest incarnation of the Razr, Moto’s iconic flip phone.

79彩票注册网址Unlike rivals Samsung and Huawei, Moto is folding its screen vertically rather than horizontally, like a book.

“The intention was not to bring back the Razr V3, but after exploring all possible iterations of flexible display technology, it became apparent that the clamshell form factor was the best solution for the consumer pain points in today’s smartphones,” spokeswoman Cooney says.

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