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SciTechTalk: Google to reign in Android
by Jim Algar
Washington DC (UPI) May 19, 2012


China clears Google purchase of Motorola Mobility
San Francisco (AFP) May 19, 2012 - Google on Saturday said that Chinese regulators approved its $12.5 billion deal to buy Motorola Mobility, clearing the path for the Internet titan to complete the acquisition early next week.

US and European regulators gave approval to the purchase in February.

Conditions put on the rubber stamp from China's Ministry of Commerce included Google keeping its Android software for gadgets such as smartphones and tablet computers free and open for at least five years.

"Our stand since we agreed to acquire Motorola has not changed and we look forward to closing the deal," a Google spokesperson told AFP.

Google will acquire 17,000 patents with the purchase of Motorola Mobility and has been strengthening its patent portfolio as the fight for dominance in the booming smartphone and tablet market increasingly involves lawsuits claiming infringement of patented technology.

Apple and South Korea's Samsung, whose devices are powered by Google's Android software, are currently involved in lengthy and costly patent fights being waged on several continents.

In announcing the Motorola Mobility acquisition in August, Google chief executive Larry Page said it will "enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies."

Regulators in the US and elsewhere have stressed that they will be watching to make sure that the Mountain View, California-based company does not use its acquisition of Motorola Mobility to obtain unfair advantage in the market.

Google's recent decision to take a more active role in how its Android mobile operating system is used is seen as an attempt to address the single most vexing problem in the Android world -- the fragmentation of the one, "pure" Android into hundred of slightly different versions through its modification by smartphone and tablet makers.

Google also hopes to better compete with Apple, which keeps a tight reign on its operating system and knows that every iPhone, iPad and iPod is running the exact same version of the software.

Google's problem with Android is that it was released as open-source software, available for anyone to use and also -- and here is where the trouble comes in -- to modify in any way they see fit.

Smartphone manufacturers, almost without exception, have modified Android to create their own custom versions, with modified user interfaces and features not found in the "pure" release version to differentiate their phone offerings from those of the competition.

So Sprint phones run on "Sprint Android" and T-Mobile phones come with "T-Mobile Android" and so on.

Tablet manufacturers have followed suit.

The problems arose when new versions of the stock Android were released. The upgrades could only make their way into the Android device universe painfully slowly, as each manufacturer had to go back to square one to modify the new version so it could successfully begin to update all the phones or tablets of its existing customers. This often took months or even longer, leading to customer frustration.

Compare that with Apple. When it was ready to release iOS 5, it knew that every Apple device out there running iOS 4 was running a single version -- Apple's version -- and was therefore ready to be upgraded without problems or delays.

Google made one attempt to offer consumers its own branded phone running pure, unmodified Android but could not compete with the marketing clout of established cellphone carriers, who continued to offer heavily subsidized phones running their versions of the operating system.

To improve the fragmentation situation, Google announced plans this week to give multiple mobile-device makers early access to new releases of Android and said it would sell devices made by those manufacturers directly to consumers.

Previously, Google's practice had been to choose just one hardware manufacturer to produce a "lead device" running the latest version of Android, before releasing the upgraded software to other phone and tablet makers, after which it could only sit and watch as the fragmentation began all over again.

By working with as many as five manufacturers and selling direct rather than through cellphone carriers, Google and its hardware partners could get devices to market faster, often by several months, analysts said.

Rajeev Chand, head of research at Rutberg & Co., said the Android world has turned into a "Wild West" in which app developers have struggled to make sure apps are compatible with hundreds of different Android-powered devices with their modified versions of the operating system.

Device makers and carriers alike have left their imprint on devices, meaning the "consumer experience is highly variant," he told The Wall Street Journal.

Google's shift in strategy is likely meant "to create a more standardized experience for consumers and app developers," similar to that of Apple, Chand said.

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