Motorola plans to release a new line of Android-based handsets in time for holiday sales, potentially rearranging the smartphone market in Google's favor. This is more bad news for Microsoft, which takes a further backseat to Google and could make Palm's supposed ascendency a poorer bet. Apple is unfazed.
The Motorola news appeared in today's Wall Street Journal, and brought a slight uptick in the company's flagging share price. A stock analyst was the source of the report, which also predicted additional cuts for the beleaguered company.
Motorola remains a strong brand, however, and releasing "the right" Android phone in time for Christmas could change its fortunes considerably. The wireless market remains as much product-driven as brand-sensitive, allowing Motorola to come steaming back if it can deliver a hit product.
As for Microsoft, there was a time when it appeared Windows Mobile and Apple's iPhone would battle it out for smartphone supremacy. Those days seem long ago, however, and Redmond's inability to compete with Google's Android OS or the iPhone or BlackBerry render Microsoft a wireless afterthought. If potential customers ever thought of Microsoft at all.
The key to the battle of the smartphone operating systems is only partly hardware. As these handsets become a platform, applications are likely to become the real differentiator. While smartphones have yet to generate a real "killer app," those with a real app library, like iPhone, have a considerable leg up on those that don't.
Theoretically, Windows Mobile has an app library, but the hardware has been so slow to catch on that it hardly seems to matter. Palm webOS, Google Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia are all playing catch-up to the iPhone where apps are concerned.
My bet is that only one of the bunch will become a real threat to Apple. The most likely players are Palm and Android, though it's hard to even speculate on a winner when neither has really shown itself.
Palm has yet to release its Mojo software developer kit and Android has yet to really catch on. Both Palm and Google seem like they ought to be able to generate developer excitement, but I'd also expect to already be seeing it.
In the continuing--and heating up--battle of the smartphones, today is a good day for Motorola and Google. Apple isn't hurt by the announcement, but it places more pressure on Palm to get its SDK out and more applications developed for Pre before Android really catches on. When/if that happens, it may be too late.