It was an acquisition that stood to change the smartphone world, but to date it hasn’t made much impact. Nearly two years ago Google agreed acquire Motorola Mobility, giving the primary developer of Android a handset division to go with it. The possibilities were, and still are, endless. Yet it seems as though nothing has changed. To nearly every consumer, Motorola is still Motorola, rather than Google’s handset division.
According to Google, that’s the game plan. They claim to have acquired Motorola for its array of patents, which it will use, and has used, in defense of lawsuits from Apple and Microsoft. But with such a powerful asset within their company, it stands to reason that Google will eventually move forward with Motorola as their own vehicle for Android.
Right now it’s just what they need.
Facebook changes the game
When Facebook announced Facebook Home, it was met with little fanfare. Many people had decided, before even seeing the announcement, that they weren’t interested. Why would anyone want to make Facebook the center of their mobile experiences? Yet that misses a fundamental point about Facebook’s latest mobile gambit.
What Facebook accomplished was to essentially claim Android as its own. It didn’t go through the process of developing its own mobile OS, or commissioning a manufacturer to create an official “Facebook phone.” Instead they worked within the existing open architecture of Android to create something essentially new.
Don’t listen to tech snobs who had made a decision about Facebook Home before trying it: the platform does have plenty to offer. Even if people don’t switch now, Facebook has a foot in the door. Think of this like an experiment, such as those described by Eric Reis in The Lean Startup. Now Facebook can more closely monitor how people behave on their mobile phones and tweak their strategy accordingly.
In other words, Facebook is creating a new mobile landscape. It’s certain that others will follow, hijacking Android for their own gain. The only solution is for Android to fight back.
Learning from the best
When it comes to creating products that consumers love, there is perhaps no company more effective than Apple. Steve Jobs brought Apple back from the dead, because he knew how to create products that would resonate with consumers. Part of his formula involved combining hardware with software. The iPod required iTunes to run. The iPhone came with its own operating system.
Controlling both hardware and software allowed Apple to in turn control the whole experience. That is key in their ability to create products consumers want. With Android there is a fragmented experience. Google develops the software, but manufacturers create the devices. On top of that, they also create their own Android overlays, which changes the experience from device-to-device. An HTC and a Samsung smartphone might both run Android, but they both provide different experiences.
If Google utilizes Motorola to its fullest, it can realize that same level of control that Apple does. Google would deliver its own vision, the original vision, of the Android software, coupled with a fine-tuned hardware experience. It wouldn’t have to deal with HTC using an unpopular skin or Samsung using flimsy parts. It would be the exact phone that Google envisions. Chances are it’s a phone that consumers would enjoy.
Think about it in terms of the Nexus series. On those Google was able to control the software end. Now imagine they were able to add their own custom, presumably high-end, hardware. It’s something that would pique consumers, if not enthrall them.
The final reason Google should take fuller advantage of Motorola: increasing competition. For a few years iPhone and Android were the only two real choices for consumers. BlackBerry had busted, and Microsoft continually failed to deliver a quality Windows Phone product. But this year the competition is getting fiercer. Google taking closer control of Android would put them in a better position.
Microsoft might not have much juice with Windows Phone 8, but the BlackBerry 10 phones have certainly made an impact (especially on an international basis). They’re not the only ones. Firefox announced dozens of partners for its Firefox OS, which it will release later this year. Samsung, the most popular Android manufacturer, has partnered on the Tizen OS, and will release a Tizen-based phone later this year.
With all this competition, it makes sense for Google to make Motorola its flagship Android. They could better position themselves in an increasingly dense marketplace. This goes especially if Samsung makes a move towards Tizen. Losing Samsung as a partner could hurt, but Google could more than compensate if it made Motorola the manufacturer of the Google Phone.
To date we have seen Google take little advantage of its Motorola acquisition outside the courtroom. Yet the potential is always there. We’re already hearing plenty about the Motorola X Phone. Could that be Google’s big move with Motorola, creating a closer alignment between Android software and hardware? Maybe. If not, it still stands to reason that Google will make such a play in the near future. The conditions are rips. That’s for certain.