Google announced that it will buy Motorola Mobility on Monday morning, another play that seems borrowed from Apple’s playbook. The reported $12.5 billion cash deal will let Google make its own hardware for its own operating system, just like Apple does. (Motorola spun off its smartphone and tablet division into Motorola Mobility in January.)
Android has always essentially been an open-source copy of Apple iOS. It has differences, but only a truly dedicated fan would deny that Apple pioneered the idea of a computer-like touchscreen smartphone running a big selection of third-party apps.
Then, after deciding not to launch a centralized app store on the web, Google realized Apple’s approach was paying off in the form of elevated app sales. So it launched Android.com, a centralized, Google-maintained app store accessible from other platforms besides an Android smartphone, just like the iTunes app store.
Now, Google is taking another cue from Apple by uniting hardware and OS under one roof.
Sure, it says Android will still be an open system, available to competing partners, and that Motorola will technically remain a licensee just like them. But unlike them, it’s part of Google now, so, like Apple, Google gets to design future versions of its operating system to work perfectly on future versions of its Motorola hardware. This deep integration can affect everything from how well spellcheck works to making sure apps don’t crash randomly.
“Motorola’s total commitment to Android in mobile devices is one of many reasons that there is a natural fit between our two companies,” writes Google CEO Larry Page. “Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers everywhere.”
Actually, this deal won’t “supercharge” much at all for Motorola’s competitors, except for, perhaps, their challenges. The whole point of this acquisition is that Google+Motorola will be able to make better smartphones than Motorola could on its own.
So Motorola’s competitors have plenty of cause for concern, although Google tries to put them with ease by claiming that this move will improve the Android platform in general. Still, nothing changes the fact that companies like HTC, which collaborated with Google on its Nexus One, won’t have the same opportunities to work with Google going forward that its Motorola division does.
These competitors will have to compete on a hardware level with the same company that provides their operating system, the centralized Android Marketplace app store, and even in-app advertising, and that doesn’t sound like a good place to be.
Apple also has cause for concern. Android is already the number one smartphone operating system worldwide (Gartner). In addition, while you can make fun of Android tablets all you want, Android has quietly grabbed 20 percent of that iPad-dominated market (ABI). With Motorola under its belt, Android is poised to make further gains on both the smartphone and tablet.
Google says part of the reason it is buying Motorola is for its patents, and that argument carries some weight. But ultimately, there would be no deal if Google didn’t also think that tighter integration between its hardware, operating system, and apps would help it compete with Apple — in particular by addressing the troubling fact that the Android marketplace offers lower-quality apps, generally speaking, than iTunes does.
Evolver.fm has noticed this in our own extensive research into music apps, but it’s also borne out by the fact that Android users are less willing to spend money on apps than are iPhone users. The best mobile operating system will be the one with the best apps — and because developers follow the money, the one with the best apps will be the one where customers pay the most for them. This could have been a vicious cycle for Google, and one that it may have just averted.
Google’s Motorola acquisition should help it resolve numerous user complaints about Android, whose solutions will probably be passed along to other partners: battery life issues, crashing apps (including Google’s own), confusing settings, spellchecking weirdness, and the overall impression that Android has been cobbled together.
“Android OS feels like a cheap knockoff of the iPhone that you pickup in Chinatown,” observed Fernando Garza
of Binary Red Studios recently in a discussion of Android’s shortcomings.
Exactly — but Google is aware of the issue. Once again, its answer is to copy Apple.
(Image courtesy of Google)