Motorola's Linux strategy evolves with Android
By Ryan Paul | Published: October 07, 2008 - 08:21PM CT
Reports have emerged indicating that Motorola is hiring developers with Java and Android expertise in preparation for
launching a major mobile initiative on top of Google's software platform. This move reflects a new stage n the expansion
of Motorola's mobile software strategy, which increasingly emphasizes the open source Linux operating system.
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Motorola was one of the first major handset makers to embrace the Linux platform. Its earliest Linux-based phones
were popular in China, enabling the company to sell over 5 million of the penguin-powered devices by 2006. Following
that initial victory, Motorola brought its Linux phones to the US with its global launch of the Razr2 in 2007. Motorola's
current Linux lineup features eight LiMo-compatible handsets and the company boasts that its total sales of Linux-based
phones has exceeded 14 million as of this year.
Motorola VP of software Christy Wyatt talked about the company's commitment to Linux last month during a keynote
presentation at the Open Source in Mobile conference in Berlin. She says that Motorola is betting big on Linux because
the open platform reduces costs and provides a very high level of flexibility. The rapid pace at which the smartphone
market is evolving has forced Motorola and its competitors to look for technologies that can shorten their development
cycles. Wyatt says that Linux facilitates that kind of agile development and can help device makers stay ahead of the
Motorola has been attempting to cultivate a third-party developer ecosystem around its LiMo-compatible MOTOMAGX
platform, which was first unveiled last year. The handset maker's recently-launched MOTODEV SDK is very promising,
but still has a long way to go, according to some early reviews by open source enthusiasts who have experience with
other Linux mobile platforms.
Diversity or sharpened focus?
The revelation that Motorola is investing in Android development has gotten a lot of attention in the past week from
pundits and industry analysts. Some are wondering if Motorola will leave LiMo behind as it embraces Google's Android
platform. That is certainly a possibility, but I think that the question itself extends from a misconception. Contrary to
what many seem to assume, each handset maker and mobile carrier isn't necessarily going to choose only one
Linux-based mobile platform.
Android and MOTOMAGX are very different kinds of platforms—they aren't redundant—and it's entirely conceivable that
Motorola will want to use Android on one kind of device and MOTOMAGX on another. For instance, Motorola's current
MOTOMAGX phones strongly focus on multimedia capabilities and don't really compete with the conventional business
smartphone market, so it would make sense for the company to continue using MOTOMAGX in that context while
adopting Android for new high-end smartphones with touch screens and keyboards.
A glance across all of Motorola's product lines reveals that it already exhibits a very high degree of platform diversity.
Practically every major mobile platform, including Windows Mobile on the Moto Q devices, is represented somewhere in
Motorola's product landscape. With that in mind, it seems only natural that Motorola would adopt more than one Linux
platform, as the company increases its commitment to Linux.
Looking at Motorola's affiliations practically confirms that view. Motorola is a founding member of all three major
open-platform initiatives: the LiMo Foundation, the Open Handset Alliance, and the Symbian Foundation. Motorola will
likely use all three platforms to help meet consumer demand for different kind of devices and mobile experiences in
different markets and regions.
During the OSiM keynote, Wyatt forcefully argued for the importance of diversity in the mobile software industry.
Motorola doesn't want to see the emergence of a single dominant mobile software vendor. The challenge, however, is
balancing the need for diversity against the cost of fragmentation. To enable development of software applications that
can span across a multitude of platforms, she sees web technologies as a potential solution.