photograph by Henry Leutwyler

The Motorola Sparrow: Retail's Handheld Powerhouse

Think of the Motorola Sparrow as an iPhone for retailers. Equipped with a touch-sensitive back panel that keeps the screen free for viewing, the wireless prototype device integrates myriad existing technologies and features into a single palm-held powerhouse. Need to check inventory? A built-in bar-code scanner can retrieve that information. Want to see a customer's profile? The Sparrow can pull one up after detecting a loyalty card or other relevant RFID tag. Want to win brownie points with a shopper by helping her jump the checkout line? The device can process credit cards from the sales floor. This being a Motorola product, there's also a phone function, of course, just in case you need to call a supplier.

The Sparrow — so named because it's meant to be small, fast, and simple, like the bird — is a neat metaphor for the corporate mind meld that went into its production. In 2006, Motorola bought Symbol Technologies, a maker of bar-code scanners, and asked the New York — based design consultancy Aruliden to help envision what the firms' combined expertise could do for retail. Its answer was this sleek little concept. "The technology was already there," says Aruliden cofounder Rinat Aruh. "That's the beauty of this device. It's not as if we dreamed up one of those pie-in-the-sky concepts."

Shane MacGregor, director of advanced industrial design in Motorola's enterprise mobility division, says the company has been presenting the Sparrow concept to clients and gathering feedback about what they'd want in a production model. He doesn't think it will be long before Sparrows will be as ubiquitous around town as, well, sparrows. He says Motorola already has "a couple of projects in the pipeline that will be either evolutions of this or some derivative."

Got a tip for the Futurist? Email futurist@fastcompany.com

photograph by Henry Leutwyler

Add New Comment


  • john weller

    WOW!!!! Now that is the kind of innovation that gets one excited about a company. Mototrola seems to have done what GM could not. Motorola pulled back, retooled and out came a Sparrow. Im not saying it is the sure fire answer to build them back but it gives me real confidence that they can do it. I dont even have a retail operation and I am thinking of all types of things I could do with that bird. Now why dont we get the unions out of the US automakers and bring in the type of people that can do this for Detroit? This is the type of innovationthat will decide the fate of american business's, not bailouts of the executives that brought these companies to thier knees to begin with. Lets take the a billion and hire the best of the best from BMW, Honda, Toyota and Nisson and let them salvage the US auto industry. Way to go Motorola!!

  • Gregg Lebovitz

    The product looks cute, but I wonder how long it will take Motorola to shoot themselves in the foot over this product. Let's see, they lost the cell phone business to Nokia, the cable modem business to Cisco, and even the transistor radio business to Sony, and the two way radio business to Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood.

    I hope this sparrow thing gets traction in the market, but I am not betting heavily on Motorola to pull out success with this product in the current market. Hope they prove me wrong.

  • Brad Suhr

    What's the timeline on these babies? And what's the price going to be? You left us hanging - feed us some more info