On the day that Microsoft is launching phones that will run on its latest version of Windows Mobile, Motorola is singing the praises of open-source software, specifically Google’s Android.
Motorola, once a powerhouse in the mobile market but now struggling to regain a foothold, had a line of phones featuring Windows Mobile. But it has also long been a proponent of open-source software, and it is now singly focused on just one open-source platform: Android.
During its annual event for developers on Tuesday, this year solely focused on Android, Motorola offered some insights into its close relationship with the search giant and why it chose Android at the expense of all other operating systems.
The main reason for choosing Android may have been because it is open source. The economics work out about the same for a proprietary system compared to an open platform, despite the fact that open-source software comes for free, said Christy Wyatt, vice president of software applications and ecosystems at Motorola.
“The open-source benefits have little to do with cost,” she said. “The fact is it has more to do with innovation than cost.”
Motorola can deliver a better product using open source because it can develop the software to its own specifications. But that development, combined with work integrating the software onto hardware, costs about what it would to buy a proprietary platform instead.
While Motorola can and has developed its own additions to Android, Wyatt acknowledged that Google drives the creation of the software and then offers it open source. That’s despite Google’s positioning of Android as a platform developed by the community.
But Motorola works very closely with Google to try to shape that development. “I believe most anyone at Google would tell you there’s not a lack of input coming from the Motorola side,” she said. There are a “significant number” of people at Motorola whose full-time job it is to work directly with Google all day, she said.
Google incorporates some of the feedback and technology contributions that Motorola offers and may implement others in a different way, said Rick Osterloh, vice president of product development for Android products and services at Motorola.
Wyatt was uncertain whether other members of the Open Handset Alliance, the group formed to support Android, have similar relationships with Google. But she doubts it. “I have to imagine they’d want to lose their mind if there were others like us,” she joked.
Because Android is open source, Motorola is not worried about the control that Google exerts over the platform or over its future. “If at some point Google says, ‘we’re done,’ we have the capacity and mobile platform expertise to do what we need to do. We don’t feel at risk in that kind of scenario,” Wyatt said.
Motorola’s focus on Android is an abrupt turnaround for the company.
“We’ve been somewhat platform-promiscuous in the past,” Wyatt said, meaning that the company supported practically every mobile operating system available. But about a year-and-a-half ago the company realized that to be successful it would have to create and enable applications and experiences, and “you can’t do that across eight different operating systems,” she said. “It’s not sustainable in the long term.”
So it decided to focus, for now, on just one.
“We will deliver the vast majority of our devices in 2010 on Android,” said Sanjay Jha, co-CEO of Motorola. The company has said that it expects to deliver its second Android phone, following the recently announced Cliq, before the holiday season at the end of the year. Next year, it expects to sell “multiple tens” of models of Android phones, he said.
Motorola has not said which other platform it might support. It has not ruled out Windows Mobile. “We are anxiously anticipating Windows Mobile’s next version,” Wyatt said, repeating a line the company has used recently when asked about Microsoft’s operating system.
Microsoft has not said when Windows Mobile 7 will appear, but many people expect it to launch next year.
On Tuesday, Microsoft said that it expects 30 different phones running the latest version of Windows Mobile will be on the market by the end of the year. Samsung and HTC are among the vendors making the phones. Absent from the list of phone makers supporting the platform are Motorola and Palm, which also recently said it won’t make new phones running the software.
The Motorola developer event is happening the day before the annual CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment conference starts in San Diego.