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Why Motorola may move beyond Android

Motorola is reportedly developing its own mobile OS. Here's a few reasons why that makes sense.

An Information Week article claiming Motorola is developing its own web-based mobile OS sparked widespread speculation this week that the handset maker could be moving away from using Google’s Android for future smartphones.

Based on an unnamed source familiar with the project and citing a rash of recent hires of ex-Apple and Google OS engineers, InfoWeek reported that Motorola may be developing its own OS because of concerns about Oracle’s patent claims against Google.

Although it would seem to be late to get into this game with the popularity of iOS and Android, it’s easy to see why Motorola would want its own OS. Beyond patent concerns, depending on a third party for a core part of your product is always risky. With most other smartphone vendors jumping on the Android bandwagon, it could also become harder for Motorola to differentiate its products. And let’s not forget the fragmentation issues around Android, which will likely be a pain point for all Android-based handset makers.

Motorola responded to the reports with a terse and not terribly convincing denial. From PCMag:

When asked to comment on the accuracy of the InformationWeek report, Kira Golin, a spokeswoman for Motorola Mobility, issued what has come to be known as a “non-denial denial.” “Motorola Mobility is committed to Android,” she said. “That’s our statement, and I can’t control how you interpret or print it.”

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Just what exactly is Motorola up to by hiring all those OS engineers? There are several theories floating around. Jared Newman points out that Motorola already has a basic web-based OS in its Webtop “application” for its Atrix line of docking devices, and Motorola has indicated that it plans to expand the use of Webtop to other smartphones. Keir Thomas of PC World wonders if the new hires may be working on an English-language version of Wophone, a Linux-based smartphone OS that’s already been released in China with support from Motorola. Then there’s Azingo, another Linux-based mobile OS that Motorola acquired last year.

There’s also speculation that the “web-based OS” noted in the InfoWeek report could refer to a completely cloud-based system where not just the apps are online, but all of a user’s data resides in the cloud.

We’ll have to see if any of those theories prove correct, but it’s not surprising that Motorola would be hedging its bets on Android. Last year, Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha clearly summed up the situation:

Owning your OS is important; provided you have an ecosystem, you have all the services and you have an ability and the scale to execute on keeping that OS at the leading edge.

Motorola isn’t the only one hedging here. In addition to Android devices, HTC actively supports Windows Phone 7 and Samsung has launched its own Bada mobile OS. It’s unlikely that Motorola is planning a wholesale move away from Android anytime soon, but like other smartphone vendors, they likely don’t want all of their OS eggs in one basket.

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  • http://www.foursides.ca James M

    After reading Daring Fireball today, this moves makes more sense to me.

    If Google is telling the handset makers to send their changes to the Android OS for approval, Motorola may want to go in their own direction so they don’t have to deal with those restrictions. If RIM’s Playbook can support Android apps, why couldn’t Motorola do the same thing?

    They are being forward thinking, as well, in the sense that the future of mobile is not access through cellphone towers, but wi-fi networks. Having data in the cloud is going to become increasingly popular as the tools and access to those services become more widely available.