Motorola vouches for Android
The struggling handset maker won't say when it will release phones based on Google's operating system, but disputes criticisms that the software is flawed
Last Updated February 1, 2008
By Peter Nowak
Rob Shaddock, chief technology officer of Motorola's mobile device business, says the company failed to follow-up on its hugely successful Razr phone.
Despite grumbling from some software developers, Google's Android — the open-source operating system hailed by the company as the saviour of the mobile phone industry — is going well, according to Motorola, one of the biggest companies involved in the project.
"The team that's been engaged with it have been impressed with the tool set, the quality of stuff they're seeing and their ability to become productive quite quickly using the tools," says Rob Shaddock, chief technology officer of Motorola's mobile devices business. "They're quite excited about it."
A number of software engineers have complained about Android, the underlying cellphone operating system Google released to developers in November to build new mobile applications. Engineers have said the system is full of bugs and that Google has been unresponsive in providing support.
"Functionality is not there, is poorly documented, or just doesn't work," Seattle-based engineer Adam MacBeth told the Wall Street Journal in December. MacBeth has designed software for devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG and Apple's iPhone. "It's clearly not ready for prime time."
The 34-member Open Handset Alliance, a partnership of Google, handset makers including Motorola, Samsung and HTC, cellphone providers and other technology firms, said in November that the first Android-based phones would be available in the second half of 2008. But the frustration from engineers has led some industry analysts to suggest that Android may not be all it's cracked up to be, and that it may not have any significant impact on the cellphone industry until a new and improved version is introduced.
"It looks like it may be a second-generation thing," says California-based technology analyst Rob Enderle. "I don't expect anything major out of Android until at least 2009."
Shaddock, however, disputes there is anything wrong with the operating system.
The first generation of Android phones will probably showcase Google's suite of products, including Gmail, Maps and Talk, while the newer and creative applications from third parties aren't likely to show up until the second generation, he says, which is not unusual.
"That would be kind of normal with any platform you're making. I don't see anything that says that the first generation is likely to be a poor experience," he says.
Android could be a big hope for Motorola's handset business, which hit rough times in 2007. The company saw its global market share slip to 14 from 21 per cent and gave up second place to Samsung — Nokia maintained the lead with 38 per cent — according to technology analysts IDC.
Motorola on Friday announced it was considering spinning off or even selling its handset business after last week posting an 83-per-cent decline in fourth-quarter profit.
Much of the problem for Motorola's lapse is that the company didn't have a good follow-up to the massively successful Razr handset, which sold more than 100 million units, Shaddock says. While the company was focused on style and design, the market moved on to phones with more multimedia features and better data abilities.
The company was also focused too much on phones that use the CDMA technology popular in North America and not enough on the third-generation GSM handsets used virtually everywhere else.
"That's where we're doing the big catchup exercise," Shaddock says. "We didn't have a good follow-on offering in the [3G] space. A number of other competitors have taken those slots."
Android, which stresses internet usage on handsets, is therefore one key path back for the company, he says.
"It's part of the future. The mobile world is rapidly moving to an internet-connected world and that's part of the mobile experience of the future," he says. "We're very firmly aligned with the philosophy that Google expresses, which is that we don't know what some of these killer applications are going to be and how this is all going to shape up. The important thing is to enable the ecosystem to develop."
Still, the company has yet to commit to a timetable for rolling out Android phones, or even if such phones will ever see the light of day.
"It's a little bit hard to predict," Shaddock says. "We'll be tracking along behind the platform, and if the platform matures and stabilizes we'll finalize our product release plans."
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