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An interesting chat with Scott Eckert of Motion Computing



This morning I was fortunate enough to have a one-on-one chat with Motion Computing‘s President and CEO, Scott Eckert.  Thanks for all those who posted comments and questions on my blog and on GottaBeMobile.  Rather than pose every question directly (as there were quite a few) I looked for the common themes in the comments and constructed questions from those. 

I met Scott in the foyer lounge of a Sydney Hotel.  We chatted for a couple of minutes about Sydney, the appalling weather and work, then got down to business.  He was pleased that I was taking notes on my LS800 at the meeting and allowed that he used one himself for two years.  This led nicely into my first question.  What follows is summary of my discussion with Scott.  This is not a verbatim transcript as I did not record the conversation.

Of the 12 comments posted on the two blogs (excluding the one about taking Scott hostage until he included ice cube makers – which we both took as a joke) fully 4 of them mentioned the LS800 directly and two others mentioned a desire for a smaller tablet.  When the LS range was dropped there were a lot of people who were very disappointed, myself included.  In my view Motion created and owned the Ultra Mobile category before the UMPC label even existed.   Given that there is an apparent market for these devices and that they were, and still are,  a device that really turned heads and got people interested in Tablets – why was it dropped?

In response Scott was pleased that I was crediting them with creating a category.  Their goal was to create a truly enterprise class UMPC and he felt that they had done well with that.  He also indicated that while the LS800 did enjoy some success in certain areas that it did not achieve the volumes needed to sustain it as an additional range.  That said the market for this type of device is still there and Motion is keeping an eye on it, there is ongoing R&D and as pen, touch and other technologies mature it is an area that they may re-enter.

Next I said that to me it seemed that sometimes Motion was focusing more on winning new customers than looking after their existing customer base.  Two examples I held up to support this.  The first was the inability to migrate accessories between ranges – such as the M-series range and the LE-series range.  The second was the relatively poor upgrade experience that Motion users had going to Vista. 

On the first point Scott pointed out that their ranges are expected to exist for about 3 years before being replaced by a new range.  They try to ensure consistency in the range, but in order to take advantage of rapidly advancing technology they won’t necessarily have compatibility of peripherals between ranges. 

I suppose that this helps Motion evolve their products more quickly as they are not constraining a new range with the limitations of the old. 

Scott also pointed out that while accessories for previous ranges are not necessarily compatible, they are supported and spares are available long after the range stops shipping, which also helps to mitigate the issue for their enterprise customers.

On the second point Scott acknowledged that the Vista upgrade experience had not been all that smooth for end users.  They have learned from the feedback and hope to do it better next time.  He also pointed out that many of their enterprise accounts are still deploying XP based images on their Motion tablets.

There seems to be an increasing focus on verticals with the specialized range expanding and what I consider to be the general use/corporate range shrinking.  Is this going to be a trend that continues?

Motion are really highly focused on the verticals.  In fact when I was chatting to Scott this was very apparent long before I asked this question.  Scott told me that the way Motion look at it is that they have two primary verticals and three product ranges.  The vertical markets they are focused on are healthcare and field automation and the three product ranges can be applied to both of those.

This is not to say that there are not other niches and verticals that don’t suit the Motion tablets.  Indeed some of the successful markets have come as something of a surprise to Motion.  The LS800 enjoyed quite a bit of success in the aviation market, and this was largely driven by a software partner who married up his software, the LS800 and a mounting solution and sold this as a bundle.

What other verticals interest you?

Motion’s primary focus has always been people who need to use a computer while standing and walking. 

One of the questions that came up was around a slate for artists – any plans to enter that market?

Scott thought that the artist market was pretty well served today by the likes of the Wacom Cintiq which is not mobile, but it provides a much higher resolution and a better digitizer than what is available today in mobile devices.  There may not be too many mobile artists, but many of the ones that are out there are using the LE range devices today with success.

There were a couple of questions around multi-touch.  Motion was leading the market there – what happened?

The technology was very new and Motion just struggled to get it commercialized.  Touch, and the combination of touch and an active digitizer, is and will continue to be an important technology for future ranges.

(reading between the lines I take it there won’t be one in the LE range, though I could be wrong.)

Motion also feels that for touch to really succeed it is critical that the applications are designed for and work well with touch.  This led nicely to my next question.

Again – from the questions posted is there any thought of entering the software market to help bring that about?

The short answer is that Motion is not looking to become a software house.  However Motion are already active in that space and they currently work with about 150 software partners in the vertical markets to help them write better applications.  It is better for Motion to have more partners and to work with them rather than compete against them.

This is where Scott talked about the aviation example and how a partner created a market for the LS800 and did really well in it.  Naturally Motion would like to find more partners like that, so for those of you reading this that write software – keep that in mind!

There are some general issues that most mobile users face, such as battery life and heat.  There are also some technologies that seem to be taking a long time to come to market, such as hybrid drives or that still carry a significant premium like solid state drives.  What do you see as the most important technologies coming.

Battery technology is really a chemical process, which means that adding capacity to batteries is not easy.  Motion have found it more fruitful to reduce the power consumption of the device and this is where they are investing.  This means both engineering better, more efficient hardware, adding technologies such as LED backlit displays and working with application developers to make the applications more efficient.

Some closing thoughts from me.  Scott is a genuinely nice guy and I really enjoyed my chat with him.  He is astute, passionate about his products and focused on the vertical markets and the Motion vision.  Motion are not merely aware of the bloggers, readers and commentors that make up the blogosphere.  They are not just listening to the conversations.  They are actively reaching out and engaging and I think that is a really good thing.  Thanks to Scott for taking the time to talk to me.

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