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Google’s Motorola deal is a gamble

Rival manufacturers who make phones using the Android operating system could feel pushed out by the .5bn purchase

Google and Apple are engaged in a replay of the war Steve Jobs lost against Microsoft two decades ago. They are vying to create the dominant operating system for the computers of the future – our smartphones.

To strengthen its hand, Google has marshalled a legion of Motorola footsoldiers. The Motorolans, as Google chief Larry Page referred to them, come in both human and patent form.

Android’s success has prompted its biggest rivals to start buying up patents in the hope of killing off the operating system that is used in nearly half of new smartphones. The .5bn splashed out on Motorola can chiefly be justified by the protective shield of its considerable intellectual property.

More interesting are the business-building reasons for the deal. The biggest headache on Android’s horizon isn’t litigation, but fragmentation. Unlike Apple, Google relies on other companies such as Samsung, HTC and of course Motorola to make its handsets. It cannot tightly control the user experience. For phones to work properly, their software has to be constantly updated, but on many Android phones this does not happen and customers are beginning to cotton on.

The mini software downloads or “apps” that allow us to find a street map or play the Angry Birds game are to smartphones what records are to record players. There’s little point in having one without the other.

Unfortunately, older phones can’t always use the apps available in the Android store. Before Apple and Google entered the market, there were dozens of operating systems and developers were unable to build and market apps which were guaranteed to work. The openness of the Google system is recreating fragmentation, the very problem it was created to solve.

Motorola is a gamble. Google has a chance now to make phones as good as Apple’s, but if rival manufacturers feel pushed aside, they could desert the Android ranks. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds