What the heck? Motorola Working on new custom Mobile OS?

March 23, 2011 - Written By Maddi Hausmann Sojourner

Is Motorola Mobility Developing a Web-Based Mobile OS, and if so, WHY?

Motorola Mobility must be laughing very hard at Nokia right now, or maybe it’s the other way ’round.  While the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer’s Symbian was once the leading mobile operating system, Nokia decided to ditch it and partner with Microsoft (who was looking for a Windows Phone 7 manufacturer).  Microsoft’s agreement with Nokia to produce Win7 Phones is reportedly worth billions of dollars to the latter.  So why is Motorola Mobility moving in the exact opposite direction by hiring mobile and web software engineers to create their own proprietary Web-based mobile operating system?  Have they forgotten what a mess their mobile products were before partnering with Google and licensing Android?

Moto hiring Web and Mobile OS Experts

Information Week is reporting that Motorola Mobility has made a number of significant hires from Apple and Adobe in particular.  In particular, Gilles Drieu (VP Software Engineering, formerly of Apple and Adobe), Benoit Marchant (Director of Engineering, 10 years at Apple) and Sean Kranzberg (Director of Engineering, formerly of Adobe) all have the background to work on a mobile OS.  Drieu also worked with web standards group and has a number of web patents.  Marchant delivered web-based customer applications such as JavaScript Development and the iTunes store, while Kranzberg managed an Adobe Flash team for 5 years.

Whatever they’re doing is pretty hush-hush, as Kranzberg’s LinkedIn profile states, “Name, rank and company name is all I can say right now.”  He has been at Moto for four months.  Drieu and Marchant don’t say anything about their current Motorola assignments at all.

Android and Me notes that Motorola acquired Azingo, who made a Linux-based mobile OS, last May.  They also noted Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha’s interest in having their own OS and owning their own services.

Someone is Shooting Themselves in the Foot, But I don’t think it’s Google

Motorola is clearly trying to have it both ways:

Asked to comment, Motorola did not deny the existence of the project but re-affirmed its interest in Android. “Motorola Mobility is committed to Android as an operating system,” a company spokesperson said via email.

An analyst quoted in the article also noted Motorola didn’t want to rely on just one supplier.  While this strategy fits with Motorola’s tendency to dual-source their hardware components and avoid supply chokepoints or over-reliance on one manufacturer, a proprietary OS would lead to the very thing that Android has been so often accused of: fragmentation.  According to Information Week,

“Google is shooting itself in the foot,” said the person familiar with Motorola’s plans, citing what he sees as concerns about Android fragmentation, product differentiation, and issues related to Google’s support for its partners.

The first two concerns aren’t going to be addressed by turning to a completely unrelated OS for some of their smartphones.  And the third would be better dealt with by ditching the software they are currently providing, and I don’t mean Android.  I mean MotoBlur.  Proprietary User Interfaces allow manufacturers the market differentiation they, not Google, want. But the UIs are the reason OS updates take so long to be rolled out long after Google makes them available.

And Motorola is one of the better manufacturers in keeping the OS somewhat current!  Have you been following the disaster with how long it took the various Samsung Galaxy S lines to update from Eclair to Froyo, or how many times those updates were rolled back?  And let’s not even talk about the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.

Bottom Line: How does a Motorola Proprietary Mobile OS Sell more Stuff?

Face it, what drives smartphone sales aren’t so much software features or widgets that one phone has over another.  It’s knowing that you can get that cool app that you saw on someone else’s phone.  And if Motorola goes their own way, exactly what will the incentive be for customers to buy devices that can’t use the apps they want, or for developers to write apps for yet another platform?  Are they planning on bribing the developers like Microsoft does (why else would anyone develop for Win 7 Phone ahead of Android)?  And if not, how are they going to sell more phones?

Sure, they don’t have to convince a million customers if they can win over one carrier, but the carrier still needs a way to convince their customers to pick one phone instead of another.  Sure, Moto could promise the carrier they can put all the licensed bloatware they want on a MotoOS phone, because nobody else is going to object except some tech reviewers nobody reads.  Oh yeah, and a few million consumers who have to use the thing.

Do you have any idea why Motorola Mobility would want to develop their own OS?  Share your views in comments!