Google's Motorola move underlines Apple's Android advantage

By Jonny Evans

I'm not one to say "I told you so," but I told you so: Android alone cannot save mobile device manufacturers from smartphone Armageddon. Google's plan to spend $12.5 billion purchasing ROKR-maker, Motorola, underlines Apple's [AAPL] huge advantage within the market -- and should send shockwaves across Google's existing partnerships, who surely now know the party's almost over.

[ABOVE: Who else remembers the tangible dislike on Jobs' face when showing the soon-forgotten device that was Motorola's 'iTunes phone'?]

I don't believe it!

Look, I'm aware that Google says Motorola's Droid division will be a wholly-owned and independent subsidiary while the giant search engine company continues to bestow its patent litigation-peppered 'free and open' OS upon a willing and supplicant world, but I don't believe that promise will hold true forever. It makes no sense.

Why? Because no one sane will spend $12.5 billion (the equivalent of the entire UK economic aid package to developing countries in 2008) on something if they don't intend making full use of it.

Surely this means it is logical to expect Android development in future will move to offer better support for Motorola-made devices, even if only on a component level. Being part of Google's family is bound to give Motorola certain advantages.

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Oh, and let's not neglect the 17,000 mobile technology patents owned by Motorola Mobility. What was it 'open' Google said about competitors turning to patent litigation rather than innovation in this market? That cap sure looks good on Google this time round.

What about us?

What of all those other manufacturers? What about Samsung? Samsung has savaged its relationship with Apple in its attempt to stake a claim in the burgeoning mobile industry. Samsung is in court across the world over the Galaxy range. Taking the risks and feeling the pinch. Then there's HTC, LG, Sony Ericsson and all the other alarmed members of the 'Open Handset Alliance'.

"Google loves to characterize Android as 'open' and iOS and the iPhone as 'closed'," Apple's Steve Jobs has said in the past. "We find this a bit disingenuous, and clouding the real difference between our two approaches.

"Android is very fragmented. HTC and Motorola install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The user's left to figure it all out. Compare this with the iPhone, where every handset works the same."

I've said before that because Android devices are all very different any consumer purchasing a device powered by Google's OS has to be very careful to check the supported features, applications and upgrade path.


[ABOVE: And thanks again to Asymco]

Fragmented and insecure

This makes the purchasing experience a little more complex, while also meaning manufacturers need to focus on how to match other devices on features while delivering devices that also compete on price.

Any kind of competition on price between devices with broadly the same feature-set will inevitably lead to compromises regarding build quality, component quality and durability. With all these devices racing toward a lowest common denominator on the basis of price, features and market share, then Android device manufacture cannot be anything like that there Kubla Khan's Golden Pleasure Dome slap bang beside the ancient river those ever-so-romantic Android poets have declared it to be.

People within Android's ecosystem aren't just competing with Apple, Nokia, Microsoft, but also each other, each attempting to outdo the other with a better product implementation than others can deliver. With price being such an important factor, those slim margins are under constant attack -- and we don't hear too much in terms of verifiable evidence as to Android device return rate, but the rumors aren't great.....

So, challenged on price, implementation and feature-set, manufacturers involved in the Android-controlled gold rush are waking up today to discover that now not only are they in combat with each other, but with Google itself, via its proxy stalking horse candidate, Motorola Mobility.

This is not going to help the long-term future of the remaining big names in the mobile business. This is a major move toward consolidation which changes the entire paradigm. It will also make consumers question which Android device to buy as they ponder which manufacturers will still be in the industry within the next couple of years.

Apple rings the change

How will Apple respond?

Well, at this point its response is looming in the form of the Christmas rush to purchase an iPhone 5. After that? I continue in my belief the firm will widen the iPhone market with a cheaper device. At the end of the day this discussion is more than one of market share, but also one of delivering a viable business plan. Google's move to fork out billions of dollars to shore up Apple's former iTunes phone partner underlines just how tragic its business model actually is for the hardware firms who take the risk of supporting the Android ecosystem.

It will be interesting to see how things progress from here. I think it inevitable the innate fatalism of Android's faux-open approach will be replaced by the formation of one or perhaps two major Android manufacturers who will struggle with RIM, Nokiasoft and Apple for ascendancy in this mobile era.

Your thoughts? Don't be shy, speak them in comments below. Please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here at Computerworld.  

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