Saturday, September 17, 2011

By Buying Motorola, Google Can Now Do Whatever The Heck They Want With Android


With the announcement of their planned $12.5B Motorola Mobility acquisition this morning, Google is buying a lot of stuff. They’re buying 20,000 employees (almost doubling their headcount.) They’re buying an absurdly daunting armory of over 24,000 patents (I mean, come on: Motorola has the patent on the cell phone.) But there’s one more thing that Google’s buying, and it’s one that shifts up the Android game all together: nearly 30% of Android’s existing marketshare in the U.S.

After years of owning next to none of the hardware marketshare for their own software platform (even the so-called “Google phone” Nexus devices are made by HTC and Samsung), Google has just become Android’s 2nd biggest manufacturer.

At 29%, Googorola sits in the second place seat, just behind HTC (35%) and ahead of Samsung (25%). That stat comes from numbers pulled fresh this morning by mobile analytics firm Localytics.

Some of the things this could mean:

  • Updates For Everyone! Now under the Google umbrella, the pressure on Motorola to keep their Android handsets updated will be stronger than ever… which in turns ups the pressure for everyone else. If Motorola maintains their share and Google keeps a fire lit under them (as they should), nearly 30% of the devices flying off the shelves will be quickly upgraded to each new software release. Other manufacturers will feel the heat to support upgrades as often and as quickly possible, or risk being known as the manufacturer thatdoesnt.
  • The death of the skin? So far, any of the devices that Google has had a direct role in launching run what they call a “pure Google Experience” — that is, it’s Android, straight-up, without any of the custom interface replacements/overhauls that the manufacturers insist on strapping to their own Android devices. HTC has Sense. Sony Ericsson has UXP. Samsung has TouchWiz. Motorola had Motoblur.

    Motorola recently announced that they would be tapering off the development of Motoblur, and now we know why. Google doesn’t want their own handset manufacturer changing up Android — that would imply that something is wrong with Android. While Moto might have one or two more devices in the pipeline with BLUR on deck, expect all of their new stuff to run vanilla Android sooner than later.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this affects other manufacturer’s skinning efforts. Will they fall back to vanilla Android because that’s what most users will come to expect, or will they strengthen their UI tweaking efforts to differentiate their wares?

  • Google could tackle Android’s “fragmentation” by bullying for standard hardware specs Though they tend to be overblown, Android does have fragmentation issues. Among the most annoying, from a development/testing perspective, is the hugely varied selection of screen resolutions used by different manufacturers. How easy would it be for Googorola to say “So, hey guys, we’re only going to use 800×480 displays on our own devices for the next year or so. You don’t have to, but, you know, you probably should.”?

Google just instantly shot from zero to 60 (well, zero to 30% — but you get what I mean) in a race they long pretended to have no interest in. They stood aside and let the major manufacturers raise Android to the top — and now that it’s there, they’re swooping in and taking a commanding control of the hardware side of things. Is it evil? Perhaps a bit. But it’s also downright genius. Marketshare maintained, Google will have final say over what happens to thirty percent of the hardware sitting in pockets, and be able to sway the other manufacturers accordingly.


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