Rude Awakening: Google to Cut Jobs

Google is cutting 4,000 jobs at MotorolaNow here’s some interesting news: Google is downsizing – the first time it’s ever done so.

More precisely, it’s cutting ~20% of the workforce of its Motorola subsidiary, which it acquired earlier this year. And most of those job cuts are happening in the United States.

While Google is known for being a money machine, the fate of its Motorola subsidiary has been far less stellar. In fact, Motorola hasn’t turned a profit in 14 of its last 16 quarters.

Motorola proves how dicey the world of hardware is compared to the search advertising realm where Google makes more than 90% of its revenues and profits.

The fact is, despite Motorola’s strong lineup of smartphone models like the Droid RAZR and RAZR HD, it’s just very difficult to turn a profit on the hardware side — especially in the entry-level mass market where Motorola has also attempted to compete.

But more to the point: Motorola’s subsidiary is one industry sector where Google isn’t in the driver’s seat. By contrast, it’s easy to be a veritable profit machine when you control 65%+ of the billions that make up the search marketing world.

Recently, it’s clear that Google has been sniffing around to add other products and services and not be so dependent on one silver-bullet business category.

The big question is … what does Motorola’s experience portend for future forays by Google into new segments where the company doesn’t command an overwhelming advantage?  Or, will it spend more of its capital on search-related acquisitions, like the just-announced absorption of Frommer’s travel-related media properties?

Welcome to the real-world competition, Google.

Microsoft’s “next of Kin”? None, evidently.

Microsoft Kin logoPeople say that today’s digital world has dramatically shortened the business and product development cycle. But even so, the amount of time it took for Microsoft to pull its Kin social phone off the market – a mere six weeks after its launch – has to be a record, or close to one.

For those who missed this eye-blink of a product introduction, the Kin was supposed to be a major component in Microsoft’s efforts to become a player in the mobile market, in response to the success of Apple’s iPod and iPhone, as well as a variety of new smartphones that are powered by Google’s Android software.

The New York Times has reported that this latest development “is the latest sign of disarray for Microsoft’s recently reorganized consumer products unit.”

Amazingly, for a product that was in development for several years and reportedly represented a resource investment of well over $1 million, Microsoft sold only a relative handful of units during the Kin’s star-crossed six-week introduction. Reports of sales volume vary – from a few thousand units on the upper end to as few as 500 on the low end. Either way, it’s a stunning defeat for a company that up until a short time ago, seemed well on its way to being an important player in the field.

What was Kin’s problem? In a nutshell, consumers didn’t like the product nor the way it was being sold. Verizon, Microsoft’s service provider partner, priced Kin service agreements like a smartphone – at ~$70 per month when combined with the mandated voice plans. But many people felt that the platform was mediocre and didn’t possess anything near the functionality of a smartphone. “A feature phone, not a smartphone,” was the common complaint.

Some people are wondering if there’s a bigger story afoot: whether or not Microsoft is still committed to its Windows Phone 7 platform. It’s fallen so far behind iPhone and Android, what are its chances of success now?

And that’s not all the bad news for Microsoft on the consumer side of the business. Gizmodo is reporting that Microsoft has also cancelled a project to develop its Courier tablet computer that would have competed with the iPad.

This is just the latest in a string of Microsoft consumer initiatives that have basically fallen flat – Money, Encarta, and now the Kin and Courier.

Once, Microsoft would have hung in there for the long haul. It doesn’t seem so today.