Dan Rowinski's Mobile Platform

By Dan Rowinski

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A bad sign for Android? Motorola building its own mobile OS.

An article in InformationWeek on March 22 claims that Motorola Mobility, long a great proponent of Google’s Android mobile operating system, is building its own mobile OS.

Why would you do this, Moto?

Why turn against Google, the company that gave you a life raft when it became clear that the RAZR and feature phones would soon be historical relics? The company that has literally given you Android and rekindled your U.S. popularity? Why, Moto, why?

Really, there is nothing in the Android handbook that says “though shall be loyal only to Andy Rubin (Google’s head of Android).” Also, when it comes to Android, there are some dangerous sharks in the water.

Oracle is suing Google over the use of (or similarity to) Java script in building Android. Considering that Oracle has pretty much all of Java’s patents and control of the code, this might be a problem for Android. A lot of Google’s current and potential partners might look at the Oracle suit and back away from Android, or at least start hedging their bets. This looks to be the case with Motorola Mobility.

Yet, there are other reasons for Motorola to diversify its operating systems. Android is a fragmented platform. Choose a dessert in the beginning of the alphabet – éclair, frozen yogurt, gingerbread, soon-to-be ice cream sundae and do not forget the tablet OS Honeycomb – and it's obvious that there are a lot of different builds of Android. It's starting to drive developers wonky.

There was a significant split in Android capabilities between Éclair (2.0) and Froyo (2.2). There are devices of all shapes and sizes running Android. This is something that drives application developers crazy. With the iPhone and iPad, developers know exactly what size they are developing for. With Android, it could be four inches (as with my Samsung Galaxy S Captivate), 4.3 inches (HTC EVO 4G), seven inches (Samsung Galaxy Tab). There are smaller screens and everything in between.

Motorola is also looking around the market and realizing that just about everyone has a backup in their pocket. It is like an NFL football team having multiple decent running backs to carry the load and protection against debilitating injury to the front runner (such as could be the case if Oracle tries to shut down Android entirely).

Everybody is doing it. Samsung has Bada, its mobile OS with an app store that just hit 100 million downloads, and makes Windows Phone 7 devices. Nokia is going with Windows but will not (cannot) ditch Symbian entirely, and still probably has a couple engineers delegated to the MeeGo team. HTC actively makes both Android and Windows Phone devices and seems to be open to all operating systems.

Motorola has been almost entirely Android in its smart-phone approach. It is at odds with Microsoft, since the Redmond giant has some patent suits against Motorola related to its Android portfolio, hence no Windows Phone devices. Motorola also has said that it does not see itself using “closed” platforms where it could not place its own user interface skin – Blur – on a device.

Then there is Google itself. Recently, the search titan has been less forthcoming with its Android code, holding back Honeycomb from developers and OEMs while it works the bugs out of it.

From a consumer standpoint, it is a good move by Google. The company has an opportunity to streamline the OS, decrease fragmentation, improve flexibility and performance. On the other hand, Google looks like a complete hypocrite for “closing” a portion of the access to Android when, for its first years of existence, the Android battle cry was “we are open, much better than that closed iOS over there in Cupertino!” Google will also have more say over who and how other companies develop Android.

Motorola has a history of developing operating systems that never see the light of day. “Too many cooks in the kitchen” would probably be an appropriate cliché for Motorola’s historical problems with software development.

So, people ask; why would Moto be trying to create a mobile OS, yet again?

Answer: Do they really have a choice?

Posted by Dan Rowinski on Apr 06, 2011 at 12:19 PM


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