OEMs have too much to lose in abandoning Android
At its root, there's a very real sense in which many smart device OEMs are now beholden to Google and - albeit currently to a lesser extent - to Microsoft for device OSs. That dependence comes not from the fact that other options aren't available. They are. Symbian remains in the picture, albeit in a diminished and diminishing role, while HP's WebOS remains available and the Intel-backed MeeGo has now been given its smartphone debut care of Nokia's forthcoming N9 (despite that company having now publicly redirected its future away from the Linux-based platform it co-created).
Rather, the dependence OEMs have on Android (and potentially Windows Phone) comes from a promise of hardware sales driven by the expectations consumers have of their devices resulting from using the software. Those expectations arise not only in terms of hardware design but also in terms of the applications, content, and experiences those devices provide access to.
This itself is a function of the software platform and ecosystem building efforts of the OS proprietors themselves catalyzed by factors such as attractive brands and price. Apple is the master of making this approach work, having recognized the strategic value in using its OS as the basis for controlling all elements of the ecosystem around its devices early in the existence of the iPhone.
As for the other mobile OSs in the market, neither RIM's BlackBerry OS nor iOS are licensed, rendering them off limits to Android OEMs. And even if it were to become available to third-party OEMs, BlackBerry OS seems to be suffering from a similar malaise to that which afflicted Symbian, at least as far as developer momentum and end-user enthusiasm are concerned.
Hardware is the keystone for a concerted "extended home" push
If Google's ploy works, buying Motorola Mobility may actually enable it to increase the dependency that end users and third parties are already feeling towards Android, even if it does ultimately lose some OEM support. Google itself could help make up and exceed the shortfall, using the substantial consumer goodwill bound up in the Motorola brand, especially by US consumers for which the Motorola name has a long association with US technology leadership and innovation.
Importantly, the goodwill captured by Motorola's brand extends further, into the connected home, care of its successful set-top box business. With the Google TV platform currently struggling to find favor with either OEMs or consumers, there is a clear incentive for Google itself to drive home the benefits of a more integrated approach to multi-screen content, applications, and other services. Importantly, Motorola Mobility also brings related assets, such as video servers and data connections devices, that could prove a boon to Google in this space, as well as supporting broader "extended home" efforts.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.