Motorola's first Android phone, Cliq, headed for T-Mobile USA

T-Mobile USA CTO Cole Brodman teamed with Motorola co-CEO Sanjay Jha yesterday in San Francisco at the GigaOM Mobilize conference to debut Motorola's first Android-based device, the Motorola Cliq. T-Mobile USA will exclusively sell the device in the U.S.

It will be available commercially later this fall, and the carrier plans to market it heavily for the upcoming holiday season. T-Mobile did not disclose pricing or more specific availability information.

Motorola has bet the success of its struggling handset division on Android, and Jha seemed confident in Motorola's ability to turn around. "This is one product, but we have changed the way we do business," he said. At the start of his keynote, Jha said that Motorola would debut another Android device in the coming weeks, which industry watchers believe is headed for Verizon Wireless.

The Cliq, which will be available overseas through carriers such as France Telecom's Orange in the United Kingdom and France, Telefonica in Spain and American Movil in Latin America, is much more than just Motorola's first Android-based phone. It also is the first phone to offer MotoBLUR, a widget-based user interface that Jha said will be the foundation for future Motorola devices. MotoBLUR lets users customize their device home page so they no longer have to open and close applications. "This can be front-and-center on your home screen and integrated deep into the phone," he said. "You can communicate like you want to."

MotoBLUR allows users to synch their various social networking activities. For example, a user can post one status update across a range of social networking services. Another widget will allow them to see messages from various sources--including emails, text messages and social networking messages--on the home screen.

Besides MotoBLUR, the Cliq supports T-Mobile's 3G UMTS network, WiFi, a slide-out Qwerty keyboard and a full 3.1-inch HVGA touchscreen display. The phone also has a 5-megapixel camera with video capture and playback, a 3.5 mm headset jack, a music player pre-loaded with Amazon's MP3 store and a pre-installed 2 GB microSD memory card with support for up to 32GB of removable memory.

Analysts generally agreed that Motorola's Android debut was solid, but warned that competition would remain fierce. John Jackson, vice president of research at CCS Insight, said that the Cliq "validates Motorola's bet on Android." He said MotoBLUR was a "positive start" but that "competition is likely more intensive than Motorola anticipated."

Morgan Keegan analyst Tavis McCourt was impressed by MotoBLUR. "We believe Motorola needs to sell about 2 million smartphones/quarter to return to profitability in handsets, and the Cliq is a good first step to achieving this level," he said in a note. 

"It's an auspicious debut," said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. "I don't think you can underestimate how important it is for Motorola as a handset company."

Greengart said the focus should be on MotoBLUR, and not necessarily on the hardware. However, he noted that MotoBLUR is not unique--Greengart said Palm offers many of the same functions in the Pre, HTC does similar integration in the Android-based Hero and Nokia too plays in the same area with its Linux-based N900. Additionally, he said that the Android smartphone market itself will get more crowded, as Samsung and LG release their own offerings.

But Greengart said Motorola had done well enough to "live to fight another day." He said whatever carrier support Motorola manages to drum up will largely determine the company's Android success.

"The key is for the holiday sales season. I think the key is going to be brand and carrier distribution," he said. "This is an area where [Motorola] should acquit itself reasonably well."

Investors appeared relatively pleased with Motorola's debut, sending the company's stock up almost 7 percent, to around $8.52 per share, following the announcement.

For more:
- see this Barron's blog post
- see this CNET live blog
- see this NYT article
- see this Motorola release
- see this T-Mobile release
- see these photos and this video

Related Articles:
Motorola confirms Android launch Sept. 10
Motorola's Android specs leak
Motorola's Jha not betting financial fate on Android blockbusters         
Two U.S. carriers will launch Moto Android phones in Q4
Report: Verizon, T-Mobile launching Motorola Android phones
Motorola may aim for mid-range market with Android

Sue Marek contributed to this report.