Hello Moto’s comeback?

January 7, 2008, 1:38 PM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

LAS VEGAS — At a press event complete with white leather couches, muted blue lights and refreshments like cotton candy and mini hamburgers (hey, it’s Vegas), Motorola on Sunday night unveiled two new multimedia phones it hopes will help put the company back on the cutting edge.

But neither device seemed quite as revolutionary as the Razr did in 2004. Then again, maybe it’s time we stopped expecting another Razr from Motorola (MOT). After all, apart from Apple (AAPL), no other phonemaker has since created a phone as sharp as the ultra-thin clamshell.

Motorola’s new focus is making advanced multimedia phones for what it calls the “C generation,” not bringing out new iterations of the same phone whose success it milked for way too long.

And just who exactly is the “C generation,” you may ask?

“They’re the most mobile and socially connected generation this world has ever seen,” said Jeremy Dale, the company’s head of global marketing, at Vegas’ posh Wynn Hotel. “From a marketing viewpoint these are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

Even if you’re not part of this so-called Generation C (I’m now completely confused as to which generation I belong to — I thought we were on the X’s and Y’z, not at the beginning of the alphabet), Motorola’s new Z10 handset, one of two new phones the company plans to launch later this quarter, is worth checking out. Made for “filmmaking on the fly,” the device lets people capture video and gives them relatively advanced tools to edit their footage. The quad band GSM phone has a sleek “kick slide” form factor, a 16 million color display, 3D stereo sound and a 2.2” QVGA screen that displays video at 30 frames per second. It will also let users upload their edited videos directly to content sharing sites like YouTube.

“You can film 24 hours of video on this device,” said Dale, whose presentation of the Z10 included showing a movie clip of his “Gen C” nephew hanging around Las Vegas, which he said had been taken and edited entirely with the tools available on the new phone.

The second phone in Motorola’s new lineup is the Rokr E8 (photo above). Though the company’s Rokr line of music phones has failed to gain much traction in the United States, it’s becoming popular in China. The newest Rokr is an improvement in design and combines several new technologies: It sports a smooth, glasslike surface that lights up depending on how you want to use it — as a phone, camera or music player. For example, when you use it as a music phone, the device’s numerical keys disappear and all you can see are its play, pause and other music commands. If you receive a phone call while listening to music, though, the device automatically switches back to phone mode.

The updated handset also features new “fastscroll” navigation wheel and “haptics” touch technology which is supposed to give tactile feedback by vibrating slightly when keys are pressed (the sensation is a little difficult to get used to). Motorola, which runs its own music store in China, also announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Asian music provider Soundbuzz. That, says the company, will let it to eventually spread its music offering to India and other Asian countries.

“This is the year when the Rokr music phones really come into their own,” said Dale.

Motorola has disappointed investors by not offering any real alternatives to the Razr line of phones in recent years. As a result of four quarters of disappointing earnings, Motorola’s chief executive Ed Zander left the company late last year. His CTO, Padmasree Warrior, then departed for a post at Cisco Systems. Many analysts say it will likely be at least a year before the struggling phonemaker is back on track, and some have even hinted that the company may look at restructuring and possibly even selling off its handset business altogether.

Unfortunately, two multimedia devices — however cool — don’t equal a comeback. But they are a step in the right direction. It’s doubtful that either the Z10 or Rokr E8 will ever gain the cult following of a Razr or an iPhone, but, for the first time in several years, it appears Motorola has some real contenders in the game.