Reports have Motorola announcing as soon as Thursday a big push to build new Android phones, but the more important move would be a potential plan by the handset maker to reduce the number of mobile operating systems it uses, analysts said.
On Wednesday, a Wall Street Journal report suggested that during Motorola's Thursday morning third-quarter earnings call, the handset maker might unveil plans to focus development on Android and reduce the number of operating systems it uses. Android is the operating system developed by Google that first appeared just last week on the G1 phone built by HTC.
Analysts agreed that choosing to concentrate on just a few platforms would be a good change for the struggling Chicago-area company. "Over the last several years, they've had a one-off of everything," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "If you're trying to do that it's hard to concentrate and get it right."
If Motorola is planning to back Android in a big way, that could happen at the expense of Symbian, said Gold. It doesn't make sense for Motorola to build phones long term based on both platforms, which target generally the same market, he said. Motorola might choose Android over Symbian because Symbian is likely to be unstable in the near future as it goes through its stated plan to become open source, he said. In addition, Gold is predicting that Symbian and Android might somehow merge. "It makes sense not to have multiple open operating systems," Gold said.
Motorola has a stormy history of developing iconic, cutting-edge phones followed by prolonged dry spells that threaten the company's existence. Most recently, it built the wildly successful Razr, but in the four years since its launch, Motorola has failed to come out with another hot seller. Phone sales for the company have plummeted, from 35 million handsets in the second quarter of 2007 to 28 million in the second quarter this year. Quarterly financial losses have accompanied the drop in sales.
Narrowing its focus could help. Motorola currently makes handsets based on Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Linux, in addition to several proprietary platforms for low-end phones.
Overall, the more that handset makers focus, the more likely they are to be profitable, said Bill Hughes, an analyst with In-Stat. Nokia, BlackBerry, and until recently HTC all essentially use just one operating system, and they are all profitable companies, he noted. LG, Samsung, and Motorola all support multiple platforms, and none is profitable. "It's hard to say if that's a cause or an effect, but it's an interesting observation," Hughes said.
The analysts did not expect Motorola to support just one operating system, however. The handset maker is likely to continue making Windows Mobile phones targeted at high-end enterprise users and perhaps consolidate down to just one platform for very low-end feature phones. "But that leaves a big chunk in the middle. Android could provide focus there," Gold said.