Google Discussed Playing Favorites With Android, Memo Shows
Google internally discussed favoring some OEMs over others as it released new versions of its open-source Android operating system, according to a memo released as part of a lawsuit against the company.
The revelation comes at a particularly bad time for Google, as its proposed purchase of Motorola Mobility is being reviewed by regulators in various countries.
If the Motorola Mobility deal goes through, said intellectual-property analyst/activist Florian Mueller in his blog, the memo shows that Google "will play favorites" with only one OEM: "its own subsidiary, of course."
'Lead Device Concept'
The memo and other documents were released earlier this week in a U.S. court hearing Oracle's lawsuit against the search giant for allegedly using Java code in the development of Android.
One document filed in the court on Tuesday described a "lead device concept." That concept, according to the internal memo, is to "give early access to the software to partners who build and distribute devices to our specification (i.e., Motorola and Verizon). They get a non-contractual time to market advantage and in return they align to our standard."
Some industry observers have suggested that this approach would only apply to a Google-issued device, such as the Nexus, but others argue that it goes beyond that, and that court documents show that Google participates in the design and build of some device makers' handsets, even for handsets that are not directly branded as Google's.
"If Google already intended to give privileged access to Motorola in the past," Mueller wrote, "how can anyone seriously believe that if the acquisition of Motorola Mobility was closed, a wholly owned Google subsidiary named Motorola Mobility would not enjoy key privileges over its competitors?"
'Default Preferred Partner'?
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at NPD Group, said the new information "raises questions about whether Motorola will always be the default preferred partner." But, he noted, Google has said Motorola would be bidding on Android opportunities just as others would.
"Over the years, it's been well known that Google has worked more closely with some OEMs rather than others," Rubin said.
For instance, he said, the company has worked closely in the development of the Motorola Droid and Xoom, in addition to HTC's Nexus One and Samsung's Nexus S.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, pointed out that "sometimes, the language of internal documents conveys a different type of intent" than what is actually done publicly. Gartenberg agreed that Google had been clear that it favored "those parties that echo their vision for Android," while it offered Android to others "to do as they please."
He said the revelations about possible Google favoritism didn't change anything, and it "shouldn't come as a shock" to anyone.
The revelations about possible favoritism may be the least of Google's problems from the lawsuit. Other documents released this week could lend credence to Oracle's arguments that Google used portions of its Java code in the development of Android. Among other things, they indicate that Google was ready to co-create Android with Sun, which originated Java and which is now owned by Oracle.
Posted: 2011-09-09 @ 7:40am PT
Not sure how this raises any questions about Motorola, since this isn't anything new. Google has always had preferred partners. That's how Nexus phones and the Motorola Xoom have been born. And the idea that this somehow means that Motorola will definitely see sole preferential treatment above all over partners is an unwarranted jump in logic at best.
Sort of a shame that so many news providers have jumped on this story and run with it.