Mike Elgan had an excellent summary of the mad, mad state of mobility in Computerworld last week. I particularly liked his Onion-esque headline halfway through the piece: “Google becomes rival to its partners, partner to itself.”
It’s funny, because it’s true. Android device makers – the ones who propelled the platform to global top dog in just three years – fear that Google will tie Android more closely with Motorola smartphones and tablets, giving that brand a technical and business edge that will translate into greater sales for Motorola – and hurt them. Some are already whispering that they are looking at alternatives like Windows Phone 7 or even webOS.
But that’s the OEM world. Instead, let’s THINK POSITIVE. After all, there are plenty of ways that Google + Motorola could benefit enterprise customers, in the medium-term.
The first is the Android fragmentation problem. Google’s affection for Agile and Extreme Programming has resulted in too many versions of Android in too little time. The coming Ice Cream Sandwich will be Android’s 9th major release in 3 years. This fragmentation is compounded by Google’s relatively loose oversight over smartphone and tablet makers, who implement Android differently for every new model.
This gets into a fundamental difference between how consumers and companies think. Consumers love choice. That’s because they generally only own 1-2 versions of any given thing at a time. But anyone who’s had to provide tech support for several different brands of smartphones or TVs in their home has probably regretted not having standardized on Sony or Toshiba.
For developers, fragmentation is a mixed bag. More potential customers is great, but then there’s the headache of extra coding and testing.
For companies, there is no upside, just extra work coding and testing their custom apps, and more time for training, device testing, deployment, assessing security risks, and overall managing the devices.
“Simplification is required in the corporate environment – keep it simple – if you stick to a standard interface you can have more variety,” said Oliver Bussmann, CIO of my parent company SAP. “Right now fragmentation is a road block.”
SAP is preparing to roll out Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets, in large part because of additional layers of security on top of Android built by Samsung in conjunction with Sybase. It has eschewed other Android devices.
Other firms are largely doing the same thing. One statistic shows iOS holding a 4:1 edge over Android among enterprises.
The irony is that if device makers start to pull back or even drop Android, that could actually wake up some of the enterprises currently paralyzed by choice. Not many, but definitely some.
The second way this merger could help enterprises is in the area of patents. The lawsuit by Oracle and the sabre-rattling by Microsoft has Android developers spooked. The small ISVs, yes, though any fear is tempered by the fact that most have few sue-able assets. Rather, it’s the enterprises building custom B2B apps that are most scared that if Google loses, Microsoft or Oracle could start coming after them. That has also stalled Android momentum. It’s too early to say definitively, but it seems that Google may have purchased the protection it wanted.
The third way this merger could help Android is by injecting Motorola’s enterprise capabilities and pro-enterprise culture into Google. RAZR aside, Motorola was mostly a supplier of large businesses and government agencies for most of its 80+year history. It has decades of experience devising mission-critical hardware for large enterprises, from its telecom hardware to ruggedized walkie-talkies and smartphones for military use.
These capabilities have not atrophied. Only weeks earlier, Motorola bought an Android mobile device management company founded by ex-Google Android engineers called 3LM.
Buying Motorola doesn’t transform Google into an enterprise player overnight, not by a long stretch. But within 12-18 months, I expect tangible benefits for the CIO crowd that will make Android much more attractive to enterprises.