MotoGoogle: Good, bad, or indifferent for Microsoft?

Debra Littlejohn Shinder analyzes how the deal between Google and Motorola Mobility will affect Microsoft and its efforts to regain a foothold in the smartphone business.

The tech press is divided over whether the Google/Motorola deal announced this week is a good thing or a bad thing for Android. They're also in disagreement over whether and how the deal will affect Microsoft and its efforts to regain a foothold in the smartphone business.

Given the nature of my column, the first thing I thought when I heard the news that Google was acquiring Motorola Mobility was "Is that a good thing or a bad thing for Microsoft?" It seems most of my fellow tech analysts and "opinionators" are thinking along the same lines; many of the early headlines regarding the Google/Motorola deal mention or even feature the potential effects on Microsoft.

Those opinions seem to be all over the board, even within the same publication. Zack Whittacker over at ZDnet suggests it might motivate Microsoft to buy Research in Motion (RIM), whereas Mary Jo Foley says "Nah." They both make good points, but I'll throw in with Mary Jo on this one.

Nokia, maybe; RIM, not so much

Buying Nokia might have made sense, although I think the decision to form a strategic partnership instead was the better way to go. Nokia was ripe to switch to a new operating system; they already seemed headed in that direction when they started developing Maemo (a smartphone/tablet OS based on Debian Linux) and later MeeGo (which Maemo morphed into), despite Nokia's declaration of allegiance to Symbian.

Despite the fact that Symbian in 2010 had the largest market share of any mobile operating system (37.6%, compared to 22.7% for Android, 16% for RIM, 15.7% for iOS, and 4.2% for Windows phones), it has never seemed to have the kind of brand loyalty that other platforms elicit from their users.

Blackberry users are outdone only by iPhone fans when it comes to their strong feelings about their OS of choice. I've never heard anyone enthuse about the Symbian OS, even those who use it. On the other hand, many of my "Crackberry" friends will tell you that "you can take it when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."

Thus the announcement that Nokia was killing Symbian (at least in the United States and Canada) and would be running Windows on all their smartphones didn't raise much of a hue and cry from Symbian users. But can you imagine the outcry if Blackberry users discovered that their favorite OS was going to be replaced by Windows Phone? Yes, yes -- we know RIM already has plans to pry the BB OS from users' hands and replace it with QNX. But I don't think that has the same psychological effect as replacing it with Windows.

Many BB loyalists are not at all fond of Microsoft; the rivalry hearkens back to when, not so long ago, RIM and Microsoft were considered the top players in the U.S. smartphone market. Of course, then the iPhone came along and turned the smartphone world on its head. In fact, for a while there it seemed as if the only people who didn't embrace the iPhone were Blackberry users.

Win-win situation?

While some see the Google/Motorola deal as a nail in RIM's coffin, others predict that both RIM and Microsoft will benefit from it. Interestingly, following the announcement, stock prices for both Nokia and Microsoft rose, suggesting that the market thinks they might be on the winning end of the deal. RIM's stock was up, too. More telling was the fact that Google's own stock took a fairly significant dive. Motorola Mobility's stock, on the other hand, was up slightly more than Google's was down. Of course, the stock market is volatile and initial reactions can easily reverse.

Nokia representatives were upbeat, with spokesman James Etheridge going so far as to say that this could end up being "a massive catalyst for the Windows Phone ecosystem."

Android's loss = Microsoft's gain?

The Android platform has been steadily gaining market share, it was on 48% of smartphones worldwide last quarter, according to research firm Canalys. But much of that success has been due to the popularity of "superphones" made by vendors HTC (Incredible/Incredible 2, Thunderbolt, EVO) and Samsung (Galaxy S, Droid Charge, Infuse). Motorola has had some hits, as well -- particularly the Droid X -- and hopes are high for the dual-core LTE Droid Bionic that's expected to go on sale at Verizon next month.

However, anecdotally speaking, I've heard far more complaints about the original Droid, Droid 2, and other Motorola handsets than about other manufacturers' phones. The MotoBlur UI is generally recognized as the least polished of the three big vendors' overlays, and based on my own hands-on testing of various Android handsets (thanks to Verizon) and the experiences of friends and family members who own the phones, performance often seems sluggish in comparison to HTC and Samsung models. There were high hopes for the Xoom tablet and the Atrix phone with its innovative laptop dock, but sales didn't reflect the enthusiasm of early reviewers.

Of course, there's a good chance that if Google takes over the Moto Droid line, they'll ditch MotoBlur and go with the standard Android interface, which would make Android purists very happy. But whatever they do, there's also the possibility that -- despite Google's public statements that its other hardware partners are completely "on board" with the Motorola deal -- those vendors may be a little less enthusiastic about developing fantastic Android phones.

That doesn't mean they're suddenly going to put their blood, sweat, and tears into making killer Windows phones (after all, given Microsoft's deal with Nokia, they have the same demotivation there). However, our own Jason Hiner has speculated that the Google/Motorola alliance may push at least one current Android vendor, HTC, in Microsoft's direction -- and maybe even make that company amenable to a buyout offer from Microsoft.

My take

If Microsoft did indeed buy both HTC and Nokia, as Jason suggests at the end of his article, it could potentially put them in a far stronger position in the smartphone market. However, to really compete with Android, I still think Microsoft needs to reexamine its platform philosophy and decide whether Windows Phone is going to compete with Android or with the iPhone, because, as I see it, the two target audiences are very different ones.

Those who like the iPhone are willing to sacrifice freedom and flexibility for a smooth, "cool" experience. Those who prefer Android abhor the idea of being locked into iTunes for updates, want to be able to mount the file system and directly transfer files between phone and computer, want to have the ability to swap out microSD cards to add storage space or to move files, and so forth. In other words, all those things we also used to be able to do with Windows Mobile.

Thus far, the new and improved (in many ways) Windows Phone has been more like an iPhone than a Droid. If Microsoft wants to go after Apple customers, that's probably the right path. But if they want to take advantage of a possible opportunity created by Google's deal to grab some of the Android market, Windows Phone 8 is going to need to have those features that are driving many to buy those HTC, Samsung, and Motorola Android-based phones in the first place.

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Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

benardquek 1 Like

The recent appreciation of Nokia and Microsoft stocks are speculative and it won't last. The only reason Microsoft and Nokia's stocks rose is that the market will now see Google protecting its own assets as oppose to helping out HTC as it had earlier stated. With a hardware/software unit in place, there is little reason to expect HTC to survive any form of litigation coming from Nokia and Microsoft without Google fronting the defense. HTC's survival will depend on how much money it can milk from smartphone unit sales regardless of the platform. Android or Windows mobile, it makes no difference if the cost of litigation outweighs the profits. I am surprised that none of you have considered HP Palm to be the biggest losers since Palms own patent portfolio, numbering about 1600 patents, is considered the weakest among the lot. The only reason why Apple, Oracle and Microsoft hasn't openly fired salvos is that HP Palm is still unprofitable, and should the litigation wars begin now, there will be no reason to justify Palm's continue presence in the market leading to HP dumping Palm altogether.


It took a while for Motorola to get their phone out on the market after the notorious "fastest phones on the market" "lightening fast" ... But, good old Motorola came out with a fully non-standardized development for a smart phone, and not just your run-of-the-mill smart PDA phone device. Motorola was in the cell phone market before Verizon or At&t ever were. They have the base technology and they issued it in block segments out to all of the competition. Sure, every 3G/4G phone these days have a smart-chip installed, RIM, and of course Windows Premium Capabilities. Well, let's not forget what RIM really is, something that was actually secretly being developed by MotoMedia and not Microsoft - Thus did RIM and ARC really come from the big tech-ten or some other entity? When RIM was undergoing its introduction into the smart phone era and Windows * came out for developers, its phases of creation, and its acronym meaning were completely different. Instead of Research in Motion, it really stood for Re-identifiable information Management or Region-specific Informatics Mainframe. This was because aside from the many user-friendly, home-based forums stemming from the core of Microsoft's on-line .NET Community, there was no attention to the actual inner workings of RIM. ARC is a story that is very similar, except it is being used by Windows * developers across the globe, and it is highly unstable at times and remains under wraps. So, what did ARC stand for before it was renamed Access Reality Computing, it stood for Append-able REGISTRY Componentry, or Appended Registry Component. Microsoft did not make ARC what it is today. Do you know who did? Intel and Motorola, with a little help from HP and IBM. This is the cold hard truth, and it wasn't until companies like Motorola Communications started getting in-sync with the Channel Providers, like SAP, Oracle, and 3PAR. Many disputes started with Aatrix and Juniper as to whether they should have a Lite java-based engine specifically for the SMP world or somewhere along the lines of AJAX, PHP-Sql and Lynx computing factors. As for whether Google should mesh with Moto - I think that it is a good idea as long as Motorola the inventor of the clone-chip and inter-process multi-threading, doesn't get too far away from where they originally touch base.

daboochmeister 1 Like

Wrt/ your comment "Those who prefer Android abhor the idea of being locked into iTunes for updates, want to be able to mount the file system and directly transfer files between phone and computer, want to have the ability to swap out microSD cards to add storage space or to move files, and so forth." -- of the many millions of Android users, I'm pretty sure that actually very few (and NONE that are non-technical) really care about using iTunes vs. writing to the file system to get music/video on their phone. The standard consumer's mindset is much simpler than that -- it costs less, there's a great deal from their provider, the person at the Verizon store is pushing it, etc. Android's 43% of last quarter's smartphone market share is based on those things. And the cost is going to be an increasing factor as smartphones start to move into the 3rd world, where affordability will be more of an issue than before. I frankly hope MS DOES focus on the iPhone market segment only ... that way, Android will continue to own the overall market. Of course, I care a lot more about the state of computing worldwide, and the broad social impacts that ubiquitous smartphones will have on efforts to promote freedom, than I do about profit margins or any particular company's stock price.

JJFitz 1 Like

It is true that people outside of the tech community don't buy Android phones because they don't like the iPhone's reliance on a computer and iTunes. Nor do they buy them because they want to have the ability to swap out a micro SD card. But when they understand those two things, they appreciate the Android system more. Case in point: My teenage son finally broke his Droid by dropping it one too many times. He wouldn't keep it in the case that I bought for him (but that's another story). So I gave him my Droid which was in pristine condition (of course). He was not keen on the idea because he assumed that transferring an Android would be a big long drawn out chore like transferring an iPod or iPhone. "Dad, it will take hours.", he grumbled. "No", I replied, "It will take minutes.". I proceeded to press the buttons to reset my phone to its original settings, swapped out my micro sd card for his, called the carrier to reassign the phone number, and had him set up his email address. That's it - 10 minutes - most of which was spent getting the carrier to assign his phone number to the device. I handed him the phone and my son said, "What about my songs? What about my apps?". I explained that, "Your songs are on the sd card and your apps reinstalled over the air from the Android Market." And I never needed his laptop for any step. "This is way quicker than setting up a replacement iPod Touch.", he said. (Which I have done too many times.It took eight hours once to format and upload 5000 songs on my last iPod Touch.) The point is, he, like most smartphone consumers, have no idea about these features but they sure appreciate them when they need them. He doesn't carry his iPod Touch anymore. It's out of date and the OS can't be updated. It sits in his alarm clock dock with a sad face. It's only job is to wake him up in the morning. :( and now I get to purchase a new Android phone! Win! Win!

danmartini 2 Like

Google has become completely reactionary. Google+ to "kill" Facebook? Buy Motorola and become Apple? What's their next act? Sell their street view vehicles and become Carmax? They have made so many high profile mistakes and whiffs in the past few years, it's a wonder anyone still believes that they will ever be anything more than a digital advertising behemoth and renowned over-funded software tinkerer.

linux for me
linux for me 2 Like

This is smart move by Google. There are approximately 15,000 patents owned my Motorola which will now belong to Google. And most of these are in the mobile area. This will make it almost impossible to force Android phones off the market now. Google will have the ability to retaliate any patent attack if necessary. By the way, Google+ is growing fast and is doing extremely well too.

bboyd 4 Like

Selective breeding, grow 100 plants, cull the week, replant the good ones. Rinse &repeat. Google is not a Japanese company failure does not lead to committing workplace suicide. How about looking at the studies of hard drive failure rates or industrial power usage, did they succeed or fail. Solar Power? Ad-sense? I consider ad-sense a failure from a good to the world sense and great success from a Google stock owner sense. I think exactly the same for Facebook. They are just following Edisons footsteps, invention does not stop at success or failure.

robo_dev 2 Like

Being late to the party means you need to bring a better, faster, more fun phone. Android showed Apple how it can be done, by basically imitating what people like about IOS and doing some things a bit differently and better, in some cases. So while Apple and Android are locked in a Coke vs Pepsi battle, Microsoft will be the sad girl who nobody will dance with. Goog-Zilla, Goog-a-Rola, or whatever we call it, wants to be another Apple, by making the hardware and software Apple has shown us how it can 'own' the market. Consider than Apple has a big problem....too much cash. They have cash reserves of over $65 Billion, so it would be hard to argue that their strategy is flawed.

rdowdy 1 Like

Even if there was a slight window for MSFT, no pun intended, Balmer would find a way to screw it up. I remember at press conference stating they finally got it right with ver.6. Like a fool I believed them and bought one. This was the cellphone from hell. I swear it was cursed. Bring up apps I didn't want open and locked-up and black-out routinely during a call. HTC phone.

grayknight 3 Like

Smart phones existed before the iPhone, so how is it that the war is over? We are just beginning. As hardware costs lower and speeds increase, the phone of tomorrow will be last years laptop in specs. Microsoft may actually be in the sweet spot of learning from iPhone and Android mistakes and building a phone that can compete with both. Oh, and Windows Mobile 6/6.5 wasn't bad, but HTC's UI and Verizon's apps made it lock up.

george 1 Like

We need to sit back and watch as these hard economic times shape the direction of all the tech markets. I don't see a short nor medium term radical shift in the cellular market. As far as Windows is concerned, they have never been viable in the cellular market. Look at their current and historic market share. They are not a good embedded OS provider.

JJFitz 1 Like

I prefer Googlerola. :)


Gotorola? pronounced like Goat-o-rolla

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Is the news that Google is acquiring Motorola Mobility a good thing or a bad thing for Microsoft?

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