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

by: Gary SimsAugust 2, 2013

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.

  • Gamer

    Or Simply 4.3 is not that reliable : ), yet
    Go the udpate yesterday on Gnex and all car/bike games have the sound of the engine broken….A quick search shows that something in the API called SoundPool is broken.

    • Luka Mlinar

      I believe it’s bad timing. Google put the 4.3 on the Nexus and they developed it so you can’t compare the maker implementing stuff to anyone else. Not that the version of JB killed it. You can expect an update in the next few months one way or another. But unless they lower their price drastically i don’t see anyone buying it :P

      • briankariu

        Google also shares code with all top android OEM months before release, that’s why we saw a Samsung s4 4.3 leak before it was released.

    • Steve

      Quit spreading false information, I have never experienced any sound bugs at all with 4.3 on my Nexus 4. Nothing is broken , you probably just flashed a custom ROM incorrectly

  • Luka Mlinar

    Ill just go ahead and call it; Denis failed big time. In my mind i keep going back to how he hired Regina Dugan and how i thought, here’s a smart woman that can bring something new and exciting to the table. As we have learned many times before, trying to ride out a bad strategy in the Android world is the worst thing a company can make. Now i know Google is backing Motorola but i figure they are not a likely bunch to throw cash down a toilet. Denis needs to turn this ship around or Google should find someone else who is willing to turn it.

  • End in sight

    Yeah, and maybe Google ought to tell Motorola that Google users are largely price sensitive…meaning we want and expect “free” whenever we can get it. And I would rather have a $300 off-contract phone than have some sort of satisfaction that this phone was assembled in the US.

    • rabidhunter

      Exactly, that’s why I’m more than willing to spring for the DROID Mini. It has everything that the Moto X phone does, just not the price.

  • Cao Meo

    Actually no OEMs except Nokia are serious about WP, Android is clear winner and it’s foolish to embrace the loser which is WP and other smaller platforms.

    On the other hand Google always understands that w/o fair competition a company will get worse over time when it relies on special position to achieve results, not on its own competence.

    Therefore Google preaches openess and it’s logical that all OEMs are treated equally including Motorola.

  • Doing that is not easy, every attempt and effort may not bring the desired results. But that is the point where we can try to keep what is needed.

  • Jonathan Perry

    You can’t compare the Moto X not getting 4.3 to the New Nexus 7 getting 4.3.
    The Moto X has many more operating system improvements and changes, where the Nexus 7 is running stock android.

  • dogulas

    Could not agree more. It is time for Google to go ahead and stop pretending it doesn’t own Motorola. Frankly I don’t think that would make Samsung even blink. They are too busy stashing hordes of cash and manufacturing fifty more phones as we speak.

    • Jokesy

      If OEMs like Samsung, HTC, and Sony get angry at Google, believe it or not, Android will crack into pieces.

      • dogulas

        But what would getting “angry” make them do? Curse Google and fork Android? They always do what serves them best. I have a hard time imagining them forking Android because they are angry. They haven’t yet. Google giving Motorola special treatment wouldn’t necessarily make Samsung any less able to benefit at maximum from Google’s Android. Then again, CEOs do make bad decisions sometimes based on their personal feelings. I just doubt Samsung would. They are enormous and in the end they will always do what will make them the most money. They have essentially given up on Tizen. Why would they go for it now? Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if Google does eventually give in to geeks and break down the firewall with Motorola. I don’t think it will happen in any near future. But if things got more feisty, like if Samsung did out of the blue fork android, I can definitely see it happening. Because as it is, Motorola is only a Google company on paper, and not in practice.

    • Grimmjow

      Not being partial was part of the deal when they acquired Motorola. If they do, an antitrust action awaits them.

      • dogulas

        I don’t understand. How would it be any different from any other software and device manufacturer who does everything in-house like apple? Why can Microsoft make Surface?

        • Grimmjow

          Chinese OEMs are concerned and so is China. Google committed that they won’t give Moto any special advantage for a period of 5 years. This is how they got China to approve the acquisition. Even if this wasn’t the case Google isn’t going to do it. Relationship with OEMs matter. They are not going to let Microsoft swoop in use an opportunity to sell WP. Google ecosystem is more important to them than devices. With the Surface, Windows really has no competition so MS can do anything and other OEMs have no option.

          • dogulas

            Makes sense. Thanks for the explanation. I think it could be good for them to remind everyone (including those at of this. Because otherwise it makes no sense.

          • EliasAlucard

            If I remember correctly, China never said anything about Google not being allowed to release Motorola phones with the latest Android (besides, how does that differ from Nexus devices?). China allowed the acquisition under the condition that Google would keep Android open source.

  • Benjamin J Schwartz

    Motorola’s share of the Android pie is so minuscule that neither Google’s partners nor any regulatory agency would care if Google fostered a closer relationship with it’s wholly owned subsidiary. More to the point, for 12.5 billion dollars, Google’s shareholders should be demanding as much.