Motorola 'Open' to Smartphone Partnership with Microsoft

A deal with Microsoft to put Windows on Motorola's mobile devices is not out of the question, according to a top Motorola executive on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Oppenheimer Technology and Communications Conference, Dr. Sanjay Jha, chairman and CEO at Motorola Mobility, acknowledged that Motorola has specialized on the Android mobile OS platform, achieving No. 1 distribution in Brazil and No. 2 in China using that platform. The company is now focusing primarily on the U.S. market, with Europe representing priority No. 2.

Jha claimed that "Android is the largest ecosystem in wireless now." Still, Motorola would consider a move to Windows on mobile devices under the right conditions, even though it's a strong partner on Android. Jha indicated that view is not new for Motorola; rather, it's the "same position."

"I think we are completely open to Windows as a platform," Jha said. "Clearly, all of our focus today is on Android. That's where we're headed...and we're very proud to be part of [that]. We're not leading the charge with Windows 8 as it were, but as we become comfortable that that's a viable ecosystem and the quality of innovation and quality of services and quality of capabilities being delivered there, we will certainly be open to thinking about that."

Jha acknowledged Nokia's strong smartphone partnership with Microsoft on the Windows ecosystem. He suggested that Motorola might be game for entering into a similar such deal with Microsoft.

"I actually don't understand the deal between Nokia and Microsoft with precision," Jha said. "I'm not sure if it's well understood broadly or not. But if our position in that ecosystem could be made to be somewhat equivalent [to Nokia's], I think that would be an interesting option for us to consider."

Mobile OS players are ripe for some sort of consolidation, Jha suggested, and there might be room enough for just two survivors.

"There are probably five or six operating ecosystems that are trying to vie," he said. "There is iOS, Android, Windows, webOS and RIM. And RIM is going through a transition from their RIM OS to QNX. And I would say that to ecosystems, if you're a developer, you start out by saying you've got to support Apple and Android, and then you say of the remaining resources which other do you support. I would say that it's not clear to me that all three will succeed, but it's clear that there will be one or two platforms that succeed there."

Jha also suggested that there is a shift to using HTML 5 as the basis for all app use on mobile platforms, but he wasn't sure if the mobile OS market consolidation would happen before that shift.

Jha's proposal for a deal on using Windows is noteworthy because the two companies are currently engaged in court battles over claims that Microsoft is owed royalties on intellectual property (IP) for Android use. So far, Motorola hasn't been too successful in deflecting Microsoft's patent claims, but the litigation is ongoing.

Jha did suggest that Motorola would prevail among Android smartphone makers, largely due to Motorola's IP holdings.

"We have a very large IP portfolio, and I think in the long term as things settle down, you will see a meaningful difference in positions of many different Android players, both in terms of avoidance of royalty as well as potentially being able to collect royalties," he said. "And that will make a big difference for people that have very strong IP positions."

Meanwhile, Apple is suing Motorola in Europe based on its Xoom tablet device design, according to a blog post by Florian Müller, who writes on Android patent issues. Müller also noted that Apple is suing Motorola for allegedly infringing 40 U.S. patents.

In other mobile news, Nokia told All Things Digital that it is dropping its Symbian mobile phone line in U.S. and Canadian markets. Nokia plans to be out of its Symbian business by the time it launches its own Windows phones. That launch could take place toward the end of this year or in 2012. Nokia also confirmed that it won't support MeeGo-based mobile devices in the U.S. market.

Microsoft's purchase of Skype will lead to integration of Skype's voice-over-IP service into the Windows Phone OS. That deal, which was announced in May, still awaits European authority approvals but U.S. authorities approved it in June. Skype will remain an independent business unit under the deal. According to a Forbes story, the Skype integration into Windows Phone will be deeper than with other OSes, such as Apple's iOS. A Skype executive told Forbes that the deeper integration will be due to access to the Windows OS by Skype's engineers.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.