What Google should do with Motorola

Now that Google's acquisition of Motorola mobility is nearly complete, questions have emerged as to how the internet giant should best utilise its latest purchase.

Google should complete its acquisition of Motorola Mobility in the next few weeks, but the company has provided little detail about its plans for the company, leaving the industry scratching its collective head about Motorola’s future. A newly published report from Ovum reviews Motorola Mobility’s smart devices strategy, and attempts to answer two key questions: what might Google do, and what should Google do?

In short, the answer to what Google should do is: incorporate some key elements of Motorola’s value-add into Android itself, make use of Motorola’s set-top box relationships to pursue the carrier and operator channel for Google TV, resist the urge to make Motorola the channel for future Nexus devices, and allow Motorola to continue to differentiate without favouritism. All of that requires some nuanced decision making on behalf of Google, and none of it is straightforward. But Google is acquiring a valuable set of assets which could help significantly in several key strategic areas if it gets them right.

Continue to strip back UI customisations.

Motorola has wisely avoided some of the heavy handed Android UI customisations some of its competitors invest so much in. Google should continue to strip these back, allowing Motorola to offer a purer Google experience (though it should stop short of making Motorola the default supplier of future Nexus devices). This should also shorten the sometimes comically long delay between the launch of a new version of Android and the arrival of the first devices based on it. As part of this strategy, the Motoblur brand should be retired, as it serves at present only to confuse users since it stopped being used to describe UI elements some time ago.

Roll Motorola’s innovations into Android

Motorola has driven significant innovation around Android both organically and through acquisitions, including its Smart Actions software, its 3LM acquisition, and its Webtop offering. Google should seek to roll some of these into Android itself, with 3LM’s enterprise support being the most obvious example. This is already used by a number of Android OEMs, but it would be far more effective as a standard set of Android features. However, Google must be careful not to strip Motorola of all its differentiators as an OEM.

Use Motorola’s Home business to drive Google TV forward

Motorola has not driven the sort of integration between home and mobile offerings competitors such as Apple, Samsung and Sony have, and as such has missed an opportunity. Google should seek to use Motorola’s significant assets in the video space to both make Google TV more compelling and to pursue a carrier channel for Google TV. It would do much better as part of a carrier set-top box than it ever will as a standalone offering. Google should also drive greater integration between Motorola’s home and mobile offerings, giving consumers reasons to buy Google and/or Motorola across these categories.

Use Motorola’s Zecter acquisition to drive personal cloud offerings

Motorola brings with it the assets of Zecter, a company it acquired in 2010, and which created products which allow users to access their content across multiple screens and platforms. So far, Motorola has taken only small steps to integrate this functionality in the form of MotoCast, but Zecter’s other offering, Zumo Drive, could form the basis of a much more powerful extended home, or “personal cloud” offering, with cloud-based storage an integral component. This could be integrated with core existing Google services as well as its rumoured Google Drive product.

Allow Motorola to continue to differentiate itself without favoritism

Google must strike a careful balance between allowing Motorola to differentiate itself and avoiding favouritism. The biggest risk with the Motorola acquisition is that Google alienates its other OEM partners by offering Motorola too many advantages. It should continue to share the benefits of the Nexus program with other vendors, and should not offer Motorola privileged or early access to new flavours of Android. Google needs to find ways for Motorola to continue to set itself apart under its new ownership, and the focus should be on its hardware expertise and R&D activities.

Jan Dawson is Ovum’s Chief Telecoms Analyst. You can view his profile here