With Google’s attempt to buy Motorola Mobility, Android phone makers like Samsung and HTC face a difficult challenge.
If they continue to ship Android, they’ll eventually be competing with their platform provider. Unless regulators step in, Motorola — or whatever it becomes — will get early access to Android builds and new Google services. In fact, Google would be crazy if it didn’t let Motorola build the flagship Android phones and tablets from now on.
Microsoft would like to lure them to Windows Phone, but that playing field won’t be level either — Microsoft already paid billions to turn Nokia into its flagship partner, and has little reason to offer these other companies the same kind of deal.
But there’s another very good mobile platform out there: WebOS.
The operating system had a lot of pioneering features like multitasking and deep integration with online services. It has some big fans among consumers and developers.
But Palm was never big enough to get traction against Apple, WebOS has gone nowhere under HP, which sat on it for a year before releasing its first Palm-branded phones. It’s now stuck with negligible market share in the “Others” category — behind even Windows Phone.
HP thought it might be able to revitalize WebOS a hit by putting it — alongside Windows — on new PCs next year. But HP is the largest Windows PC manufacturer in the world, and it’s going to be shipping Windows 8 on new PCs anyway. So it might as well adopt Windows 8 for tablets, at which point the TouchPad will become an afterthought.
The only way WebOS will survive is if HP licenses it to the big handset makers who are suddenly stuck between Microsoft-Nokia and Google-Motorola.
Ben Bajarin has been sounding this call since July.
If that name rings a bell: he’s the analyst who called for Google to buy Motorola last week.
He’s right again. Stephen DeWitt recently took over the WebOS business from former Palm head Jon Rubinstein. DeWitt and his boss Todd Bradley should get out of the phone business and get into the software licensing business.