What I want (and don’t want) to see Google do with Motorola Mobility
After much deliberation and quite a few hurdles, Google has completed its purchase of Motorola Mobility. From the beginning, everyone knew that the purchase would be a big deal if it was actually completed, but now that the dust is beginning to settle we are starting to see some real speculation as to what might actually happen.
There is also quite a bit of debate about whether this was actually a good decision for Google in terms of Android, or if it have made a big mistake. Buying Motorola was expensive, and the potential pitfalls are fairly large and numerous. First, there's the potential that other Android manufacturers could accuse Google of favoritism, and stop making Android devices or use that as an excuse not to update their existing devices. Then there's the possibility of Google actually closing down Android and making it less open because they are too interested in making Motorola succeed.
However, Google has promised that Motorola will continue to be run mostly as an independent company, and that none of those problems will come up. As long as Google keeps that primary promise, with a few well played cards I think they could turn the Motorola Mobility purchase into something that is good for the company, Android as a whole, and even other Android manufacturers.
What I think should happen is this. First and foremost, I think that Google needs to keep Android's source code and development as open, if not more so, than it is now. A closing down of Android's software shouldn't even be considered with the purchase, but it's always possible that Google might get a little greedy.
As long as the software situation remains at least as it is, hardware is the main concern. After the purchase, I think Google can remain open to working with other manufacturers on their Nexus line, but should then make all of Motorola's devices examples of exactly what they want to see from every category of Android device. They don't have to be called Nexus phones, but there should be everything from high-end to low-end smartphones with perfectly stock Android, as well as tablets of various sizes. There can even be more experimental devices, with things that Google wants to try but no other manufacturer wants to risk their time on.
Provided this happens, the other important thing Google needs to do is keep other manufacturers happy. In order to do this, the company really needs to work to provide manufacturers with the source for the next Android update early, so that the other manufacturers can have the customized update ready when Google announces the next OS version. The problem is, with the way Google currently manages the Android code is that it develops the OS in private and then release it to the world in a big announcement. When Google does this, it allows its own devices to be updated right away, but leaves other manufacturers playing catchup after the announcement, and consumers waiting for their update.
While this works acceptably in the current market situation, if Google really wants to see Android succeed I think that it should strive for complete openness in Android, and release the source code for new versions as they are being developed. Google doesn't have to release updates for devices until the version is complete, but it should put the source code out there as they are working on it. Barring any extreme issues, this would let manufacturers get a head start on porting the OS to their devices, and potentially allow most updates to be pushed out the day of the announcement. Of course, a fringe benefit is that the open source ROM community would always be able to have the latest source for their ROMs, a small bonus risk taking rooted users can enjoy.
If Google takes advantage of this purchase to make both pure Android hardware and completely open source Android software become a reality, I think it could do wonders for Android as a whole. Just having the vanilla Motorola devices out there would provide a great choice for consumers, while also pressuring other Android manufacturers to do better. And if coupled with truly open source code, then other manufacturers won't have any good excuse for why updates take so long, and will have to release updates fast to compete with the Google/Motorola team. The difficult piece of this plan is making the Motorola devices the best they can be while providing that same opportunity to other manufacturers. If Google can pull it off, then it could result in an improvement in Android hardware across the board, and I think potentially even put an end to the fragmentation problem without any more lockdowns or approvals.