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Changing Places: Googlorola, WebOS and Why It Doesn’t Matter

by on August 23rd, 2011

What a week for news in the mobile space. Google buys Motorola Mobility, HP abandons webOS, and everybody else in the mobile space seemingly scrambling to make heads or tails of it. Everyone except Apple, at least. But what does it all mean? This is worthy of taking a quick break from writing about iOS to address.

The Motorola Acquisition Means Little in Google’s Android Strategy

As Larry Page openly admitted, the primary goal of the Motorola acquisition was to access the treasure trove patent portfolio that Moto owns, and literally getting a hardware manufacturer for free. While the patent protection shield gained from the acquisition will hold off Apple’s and Microsoft’s attacks for a short time, both companies will flounder quite a bit in their attempts at solidifying their new relationship; Google trying to figure out how to run a hardware engineering and manufacturing business and Motorola integrating their infrastructure and culture into Google’s. Layoffs will be imminent and the process will take a long time, and no one is certain about the outcome.

None of this, however, is actually the Android development team’s problem, and the smart money would mean that they continue ahead with their current roadmap – releasing Ice Cream Sandwich (their next version of Android) in the October/November timeframe this year. The same can be said for Apple. Regardless that the acquisition justifies Apple’s hardware/software development paradigm, Apple and the iOS team will continue to innovate and produce solid hardware for the market. Business as usual on both sides.

Letting WebOS Die on the Vine

The ironic thing about this was that I actually picked up a TouchPad about a week before the HP announcement (when the price dropped to $399), and have been using it for the past week in an attempt to write a review for it. The review, in short, is that the OS is pretty solid and rivals iOS in ways that surprised me. The hardware, on the other hand, could use some major improvements. This isn’t anything groundbreaking you wouldn’t find in other TouchPad reviews. However, as an extra test, I brought it out at a party over the weekend to see what less tech savvy folks thought of it and was quite taken by surprise.

Everyone at the table fell in love with it, and it was to little surprise.

Without even discussing the price point, the group felt that the UI was more intuitive than either that of iOS or Android, and the form factor felt natural in their hands. They were even more sold once they found out about the latest price and homebrew support. At that point, I knew why the TouchPad and WebOS failed. There simply weren’t enough advocates for the device, neither in retail stores nor in real life.

In many ways, this is the major issue with many tablet makers. They’re still approaching the tablet space as a “If you build it, they will come” market rather than one that needs to be built from the ground up. HP didn’t foster much of a fan or developer community like Apple or Google has around their mobile platforms. Instead, they acted like a hardware company, tackling the space as if it were a hardware problem. Round peg; square hole. That’s why WebOS failed and that’s why it makes no difference to Apple whether it lives or dies.

Ideally, HP could turn WebOS into the Linux of the mobile world. The underlying problem with that, however, is that mobile hardware is still very hard to build from scratch, and that will be the limiting factor preventing any major user-developed push for the platform.

Changing Places…Or Not!

It’s easy to say that Google and HP are effectively switching places with one entering the hardware space and the other leaving it. This, however, may not be he case. As primarily a software company, Google is very unfamiliar with hardware manufacturing and design. I can see Google spinning out its newfound hardware division to not just maintain its core competencies, but also to keep its culture untainted from the influences of an older and more established company.

There’s no denying that the news this week were major and ground breaking, and I hope the best for HP, Google and Motorola as they move forward. As you can see, though, there really is no compelling reason for Apple to speak up this week. Afterall, they still have iOS 5 to wrap up and a new iPhone to launch.

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