What Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility could mean for Android users

by Marty Gabel

Beyond all the pertinent analysis over what Google’s potential acquisition of Motorola Mobility means to the mobile industry, what really matters to us is how the deal will impact Android consumers. So far, little has been confirmed of course, but we can at least have some fun and speculate, right?

The hardware

This was the first thing that sprang to mind for me. In the future, could there be a day when Android only runs on Motorola phones? What will happen to all the devices out there from HTC, Samsung and other makers? Well, I doubt we have to worry to much. While Motorola will no doubt benefit from Google’s experience, and the company might be able to unleash some killer devices, the deal as it stands won’t mean other manufacturers will stop building Android smartphones and tablets, at least for now.

At the same time, will the Google-Motorola combo mean a monopoly for the combined corporation? In the first instance, this deal might actually help with the ongoing patent disputes between manufacturers. Apparently, even Motorola was threatening to sue other Android makers over patents -- this takeover may stem that. But in the future, won’t manufacturers like HTC and Samsung seek other outlets for their devices? While Android has been a great boost for them in the past, will that continue? Will Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 benefit as a result as HTC and Samsung look to design more phones for them instead of Android? Don’t be surprised to see Microsoft go after a hardware maker like Nokia or RIM to stay in the game.

The Nexus

The thought of Google only working with Motorola on its stripped-down Nexus device (previously from HTC and Samsung) may not appeal to everyone. However, Android’s Andy Rubin has made it clear that the deal will not mean Motorola have an exclusive monopoly on such a device. It’s likely the next Nexus incarnation (possibly from Samsung) is well into its production process, but in future years, who knows what direction Google will go and which manufacturer they’ll turn to? My bet is that Motorola will be called upon for future Nexus devices, if not the upcoming one.

The software

Motorola still releases phones with their own ‘skin’ or UI overlay over the stock Google Android OS. Other device manufacturers do this: HTC has its Sense, Samsung has its TouchWiz, for example. With the benefit of Google’s expertise, perhaps Motorola’s interface will gain the more subtle, stripped-down Android interface that many people enjoy. Frankly, Motorola’s ‘Blur’ skin was never a favorite and got scaled back over time, but its widgets and interface still retain some of its elements admittedly. However, the Xoom tablet runs pure, stock Honeycomb, and in the future, we’ll hopefully see Motorola devices give us Android as Google intended.

The apps

I had a worst case scenario thought today. Imagine if Google started to release special apps only for Motorola devices, leaving the rest of us with other phones/tablets out of the loop? Imagine if Samsung, HTC, LG, and others get ‘lite’, basic versions of really great Google apps like Maps and Gmail, but Motorola got all the supercharged up-to-date fully-featured versions instead?

Well, I doubt that’s going to happen. After all, Google still makes its killer apps for all kinds of platforms, and while there is no doubt that Motorola will benefit from Google’s app design prowess, it won’t have a monopoly on it. As Google repeatedly stated in its press conference, this acquisition is about protecting Android and it does not negatively impact the ecosystem for other OEMs. However, the deal will lead to stronger competition for Apple and its slick iOS. Perhaps Android fans will begin to see better apps as a result of this partnership.

Android and app quality have already come on leaps and bounds in the past year or so. Surely it can only get better from now on? Remember, this deal is mainly about protecting patents and we're unlikely to see any major differences in the short term. But over the coming years, the alliance could see huge ramifications for Android's future ventures.