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Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola wasn’t just for patents.It wants to make a phone that can compete with the iPhone and Samsung’s successful line of Galaxy phones.
To make those phones, it chose Lior Ron to lead development of an “X Phone” at Motorola, the Wall Street Journal reports.
From the outside looking in, Ron appears to be an unusual choice to develop a new smartphone for Motorola. For the last five years he’s been working on mapping projects at Google. While good maps are important for a smartphone, they are hardly the deciding factor for anyone looking at buying a new smartphone.
He appears to have no hardware experience.
He was the CTO of the Israeli Army Intelligence from 1997 to 2004, according to LinkedIn. He then went to Stanford for an MBA, which led him to Google.
He lists himself as the cofounder of two companies — GaitAid and Mapsicle. He says he spent 8 months with GaitAid and 7 months with Mapsicle. GaitAid seems to be some sort of medical device. Mapsicle seems to have been acquired by Google.
Google needs Motorola to deliver a hit. Motorola is losing money as Apple and Samsung suck all the profits out of smartphone industry. In August, Canaccord estimated that Apple and Samsung have 108% of the industry’s profits.
Beyond the smartphone profits, Google is concerned about the growing influence of Samsung. The company is worried that Samsung will “fork” Android and cut out Google, says the Wall Street Journal, citing four sources familiar with talks within Google.
Forking would mean that Samsung takes the base layer of Android, then starts customising it. Amazon, for instance, has forked Android for its line of Kindle Fires. There are no Google services like Gmail or Google Maps on Kindle Fires by default as a result.
Considering Google’s entire business with Android is built on users signing up for services and therefore being open to advertising and data collection, forking is a problem.
Samsung hasn’t forked Android, but it’s a looming threat. If Samsung wants to stand apart from other Android-based phone makers, its best hope is to customise Android so it’s unique to Samsung. It could also fork Android to create a closed ecosystem like Apple. Samsung’s Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn recently said that what Apple does better than Samsung is create an ecosystem that keeps you locked into Apple gadgets because they all work together nicely.
We don’t know what Samsung is going to do. Neither does Google. Which is part of the reason Google is going to build its own killer smartphone with Motorola. The other part of the reason is that, as we’ve already mentioned, the smartphone business can be quite lucrative! Just look at Apple’s iPhone business which is bigger than all of Microsoft.
We asked Google to be able to speak with Ron, but it declined to make him available.
His biggest project at Google, as far as we can tell, was Hotpot. Launched in November of 2010, Hotpot was an attempt to create a Yelp-like social network for food reviews. It was killed as a standalone brand six months later in April 2011. It was folded into Google Places. A few months after that, Google bought Zagat, a tacit admission that it didn’t have enough local restaurant reviews.
Ron calls himself a “product guy” on his LinkedIn profile under “specialties.” It seems that his expertise in products is influencing the development of Motorola’s phone.
The Wall Street Journal reports Google wants “top-notch features for the phone’s camera and photo software, such as better colour saturation and the ability to take panoramic shots.”
But, some of that is draining the battery on the phone, and Apple already came out with panoramic photo taking on the iPhone 5. (Frankly, it’s not that great. It’s novel, but the photos aren’t all that useful.)
Google is also looking at the possibility of using bendable screens or ceramic casings. Both of those have proven to be harder than Google hoped and it seems they’ve been scraped.
It’s probably better for Ron to focus on the hardware features instead of software. After all, the core software experience is going to be handled by Google’s Android team. What really separates Apple from its rivals is a great hardware experience. As Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster pointed out our IGNITION conference, most of Apple’s best software features have been copied by Android.
Which is what makes Ron’s selection as the guy to lead the “X Phone” so curious. Google put a software guy in charge of building a killer hardware product. Couple that with the fact that Google’s Motorola CEO is Dennis Woodside, who was previously in charge of U.S. sales, and well, let’s just say there are some reasons to doubt their ability to build a great smartphone.
Their first phone is supposed to come out next year. We’ll see if Ron was able to overcome his lack of experience to create a great phone.
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