Google tried too hard to keep Motorola at arm’s length while developing the Moto X

August 2, 2013
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Google_On_MotorolaNow that the Moto X has finally been revealed, the height of the so-called firewall between Google and Motorola is under the spot-light. Since Motorola Mobility is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google it is surprising that the Moto X doesn’t come with Android 4.3 from launch. This raises the question about how well the engineers at Google and the engineers at Motorola are getting on.

Those familiar with the situation have told the Wall Street Journal that engineers from Motorola, who had a good working relationship with their counterparts in Google, suddenly found their emails and calls going unreturned once the acquisition was announced by Google’s CEO Larry Page.

The problem for Google is that it needs to appear impartial when it comes to any advantages that it might give Motorola so as not to annoy its big business partners like Samsung, HTC and LG. It seems that Google took this sense of impartiality too far and at one point during the Moto X’s develop there was doubt if the device would come with Google’s own Chrome browser installed by default because Motorola’s engineers couldn’t get the information they needed from Google!

Apparently one of the reasons why Andy Rubin had to step down as the head of Android in March this year was to show those at Motorola that the relationship with Google’s Android team would improve.

According to Dennis Woodside, Motorola’s chief executive, the reason the Moto X doesn’t come with Android 4.3 is just because of bad timing, with 4.3 being released just at the wrong moment in the development life cycle to be incorporated at launch. That could be true, but Google did manage to get Android 4.3 onto the new Nexus 7. This clearly shows that Motorola didn’t have early access to Android 4.3. Motorola executives have said that the Moto X will get 4.3 through an over-the-air upgrade soon.

The odd thing about Google’s behavior is that its partners like Samsung and HTC develop phones with other mobile operating systems like Microsoft Windows Phone. So while Samsung can make phones however it wants and with whoever it wants and Google aren’t supposed to be concerned about this, Google’s own subsidiary doesn’t get any help at all. As one former Motorola employee put it, “it’s not like we were equally disadvantaged—we were more disadvantaged.”

Ultimately such a strategy will fail for Google. Of course it has to be sensitive to the business relationship it has with its Android partners, but Google paid $12.5 billion to buy Motorola, I think that gives it the right to use the company to its full advantage.

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