Google‘s $12.5bn acquisition of Motorola Mobility may have been given the regulatory go-ahead on both sides of the Atlantic, but the prospect for other Android OEMs – and users – is still unclear. The deal, in question for several months over concerns that hardware and software control around Android might give Google an unfair advantage, is likely to send Motorola’s rivals like Samsung, HTC and LG scurrying to the drawing board as they face the challenge of competing with the dominant force behind their primary platform. Still, as Andy Rubin said last August, Motorola isn’t necessarily a lock-in for the next Nexus device.
Attempting to pacify critics of the impending deal, Android-chief Rubin pointed out that Google intends to operate Motorola as a separate company. When it comes to partnering on future Nexus devices, he maintained, Motorola “will be part of that bidding process” but not guaranteed to win.
Still, Rubin’s comments belie Google’s obvious interest in Motorola’s upcoming product range, something chairman Eric Schmidt conceded in September last year. “We actually believe that the Motorola team has some amazing products coming … We’re excited to have the product line, to use the Motorola brand, the product architecture, the engineers” Schmidt said, “[we like] having at least one area where we can do integrated hardware and software.”
Exactly how those two approaches will pan out remains to be seen. Motorola has already shown itself willing to take on Google at its own game, pushing out a developer version of the DROID RAZR to challenge the Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus; even if other manufacturers secure future Nexus contracts, they’ll face the prospect of competing Motorola devices that have potentially just as much input from Google as their own do. As Rubin described the Nexus strategy, “all the teams [from Google and the OEM] huddle together in one building, they jointly work and these development efforts go on for 9-12 months”, something that seems likely to also be the case for Google’s greater involvement in Motorola’s impending range.
For consumers, there’s still no guarantee that the devices they buy will run the latest version of Android or, indeed, get a timely update. Motorola’s track record on this has been patchy; the XOOM tablet launched in early 2011 with all but the name pointing to it being the “official” Google Android slate, but lagged behind rivals for OS refreshes. Meanwhile, Motorola persists with its UI modifications to its smartphone range, contributing to delays in updates there.