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What’s Next for Android?

by Abel Avram on Aug 16, 2011 |

Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5B, getting 17,000 patents plus another 7,500 in the process of being granted, most of them related to communication. Android gets more litigation protection, but Google is now a hardware manufacturer, unsetting the balance in the Open Handset Alliance, the organization promoting Android. Will Android partners move to other OSes?

Motorola, Inc. split in two separate companies, Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility, in January 2011, the decision being made in March 2008, according to Wikipedia. Motorola Solution had a revenue of app. $2 billion in Q2 2011, while Mobility had a revenue of about $3.3 billion in the same quarter. Google announced the purchase of Motorola Mobility on August 15th, 2011 for a total of $12.5 billions, making it the largest purchase for the Mountain View company.

This acquisition certainly changes the mobile landscape worldwide, having a series of consequences regarding the Android ecosystem and its competition. Google will not only have access to Motorola’s 17,000 patents plus another 7,500 in the process of being granted, but they will enter a new market of set-top boxes and cable devices extending the reach of Android to places it has not been before or it has not been successful, like it happened with Google TV. In the same time, some are warning that by entering the hardware business Google is creating an unbalance in the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), an organization meant to promote Android, and wondering if other Android hardware makers will trust Google any more. By starting selling phones, Google would have an advantage over the other manufacturers, knowing in advance the hardware and software specifications of future devices. Some even think that some manufacturers will jump off the Android boat. Nokia hopes that this acquisition “could prove to be a massive catalyst for the Windows Phone ecosystem,” by drawing dissatisfied Android manufacturers to Windows.

One thing is sure, when the deal will be finished after regulatory scrutiny, probably some time during the Spring of 2012, Google will have at least 17,000 more patents related to communications, Motorola being one of the oldest companies in the business, and the producer of StarTAC, the first wireless phone introduced 30 years ago. They always suffered from not having a large patent pool like older companies such as Microsoft or Apple, and Android manufacturers have been brought to court for alleged patent violation, the most notable case being the recent European ban of Samsung’s tablets by a judge in Germany at Apple’s request. Motorola’s patents will certainly strengthen Android position, giving Google a way to close litigations with other phone and OS manufacturers.

During a conference call with financial analysts and published online, after an short introduction, the first thing said by Larry Page, CEO of Google, was:

Motorola offers us a strong patent portfolio to help protect Android from anticompetitive strategies from Microsoft, Apple, and other companies.

Other partners welcomed Google’s acquisition, including Samsung, Sony Ericsson, HTC, LG, Marvell, and ZTE, all expressing their confidence that this will strengthen Android’s position. In the meantime, Larry Page tried to assure his partners that Android will remain an open platform and Motorola will be just another licensee. But will Google leverage their advantage to the detriment of their partners in the future? Will Android manufacturers start moving towards other platforms?

Only the time will tell what exactly will happen in the future, but for now Android makers do not have real options. Should they go to Windows Phone? But they already sell Windows Phone devices, and not many of them. More precisely 1.6% of the mobile OS market in Q2 of 2011, a fall from 4.9% which was Microsoft's share a year ago, according to Gartner. Even Bada, Samsung’s pet OS, has more market share with 1.9%. The new Windows Phone version (Mango) is expected to sell better, going up to 20% of the market share by 2015 (Gartner-19.5%, IDC-20.9%), but right now Windows is no real solution. And what if Microsoft will purchase RIM or Nokia in the future? Won’t that upset the Windows ecosystem as well?

Another solution Android manufacturers have is to create their own operating system, or to fork Android and create a new alliance maybe involving Mozilla, but that requires a lot of time and resources, and with what advantages over the current situation? Will they be in a better position than they are now? It’s too late to start a new mobile OS now, and there is no real advantage in forking Android. Samsung would push Bada more, but do the customers want it? Virtually, the best option is to have their own OS, but they don't have one or it is not attractive enough, or the costs of having one are too high. Their first option is to use an existing one, but these are all in the courts of hardware manufacturers already, exception being Microsoft’s OS, but they also have a special deal with Nokia giving them the upper hand over other competitors.

Larry Page said during the conference call: “Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success. We look forward to continue work with all of them on an equal basis.” It seems that Google understands that in order to dominate the mobile landscape they need a strong Android ecosystem, and that comes by having all these partners gathered around Android and not see them fleeing to other platforms. It remains to see if Google will manage to keep them together or lose them. For the time being, Android is certainly receiving a boost by getting better patent protection.

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Hopefully this stop the IP madness by Faisal Waris

I am hoping that Google will not be evil and use the patents to basically quell the somewhat unbridled suits and counter suits currently underway

Google needs multi-platform Android by Jose Morales

This article is missing an important issue. Google revenue will not come from selling hardware. Controlling software is what really matters. Their advantage over the rest of competitors is being open and writing great software. Most proprietary mobile OS are either crappy or unsupported every couple of hardware releases. Google instead decided to base Android on top of the Linux kernel. A wise move: stop reinventing the wheel, treat mobile devices as what they are (computers!). Wide compatibility is what attracts users and developers. Windows (or MS-DOS) did not became a mainstream operating system just by running on hardware from a single company. I bet the Motorola deal is just about getting some protection against patent trolls.

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