Google-Motorola: What's Next For Android Device Makers?

Google said its handset partners were "excited" by the deal to buy Motorola Mobility. I bet--but probably not in the way Google wants to believe.
HTC was the first handset maker to release an Android handset, the G1, back in 2008. It was an ugly phone. The G1 was a sideways slider that had a trick hinge and a terrible QWERTY keyboard for typing. It had a huge chin that was derided at the time for looking awkward. It was not an elegant birth for Android handsets.

Here are my initial thoughts of the G1 from 2008, "The G1 is a rather blunt, blocky device that fails to inspire. It's heavy and doesn't have the attractive qualities that HTC has imbued onto some of its other recent smartphones. Compared to other devices that are of similar size, it is weightier and bulkier. Not egregiously so, but enough that you notice."

According to HTC, Google's Andy Rubin played a large role in the physical design of the G1. Let's hope Rubin is kept far, far away from Motorola's handset design teams, because the world doesn't need any G1 clones (no offense, Andy!). The reality, however, is that Google will likely do more than simply keep an eye on Motorola Mobility's new smartphones, despite its assurances that it won't. At the very least, I would expect Google to guide some of Motorola's designs, especially with respect to tablets.

As far as Motorola is concerned, it just earned itself more red tape in the handset-approval process. At the very best, this might delay the time it takes to get handsets to market; at the worst, well, I can imagine things getting pretty sour.

But what about the other Android licensees, what's going to happen to Acer, Casio, Dell, HTC, Kyocera, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and dozens others? Google says nothing, but I am not sure I believe it.

In the press release regarding Monday's news, Andy Rubin said, "We expect that this combination will enable us to break new ground for the Android ecosystem. However, our vision for Android is unchanged and Google remains firmly committed to Android as an open platform and a vibrant open source community. We will continue to work with all of our valued Android partners to develop and distribute innovative Android-powered devices."

Google even went so far as to line up a bunch of vapid, rah-rah quotes supposedly coming from the mouths of its Android OEM partners. Google said its partners were "excited" by the deal. I bet they were "excited," but probably not in the way Google wants to believe. Surely the management teams from HTC, LG, Samsung, and others are cursing loudly in their respective boardrooms about how to respond.

"The move raises concerns for the wider Android ecosystem as the acquisition means that Google will become a hardware vendor," said Ovum analyst Nick Dillon. "With this, Google will move from the position of partner, to that of competitor to Android handset manufacturers, potentially placing significant strain on the Android ecosystem. If, for example, Google provides preferential access to the Android code to its own hardware division, this would place other vendors at a disadvantage and may lead them to question their commitment to the platform, potentially pushing some towards other platforms. Given Google's recent moves to exert greater control of the implementation of the Android platform, such as restricting access to the Android source code to select hardware partners, such a move is not beyond the realm of the imagination."

If you're worried about the Nexus series devices, Rubin, again, tried to put our minds at ease. He explained during the analyst call that Google chooses a manufacturer near the year-end holidays and then works with that manufacturer, and chip makers, etc., to craft the next Nexus handset.

"Essentially teams huddle together in one building, they jointly work in these development efforts, they go on for 9 to 12 months, and ultimately at the holiday season or right before it, devices pop out that are based on this effort," said Rubin. "We don't expect that to change at all. The acquisition is going to be run as a separate business, they will be part of that bidding process and part of that lead development process. And obviously Android remains open to other partners to use as they are today."

In other words, the Nexus handset that will be released at the end of the year is already in the works, and has been for nine months. Today's purchase of Motorola isn't going to change that. Moving forward, Rubin would have us believe that every handset OEM still has a fair shot at the Nexus title, but if you think Motorola isn't going to make the 2012 Nexus handset, you'd be kidding yourself.

See the latest IT solutions at Interop New York. Learn to leverage business technology innovations--including cloud, virtualization, security, mobility, and data center advances--that cut costs, increase productivity, and drive business value. Save 25% on Flex and Conference Passes or get a Free Expo Pass with code CPFHNY25. It happens in New York City, Oct. 3-7, 2011. Register now.

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing