Will Motorola Take Android Down Social Path?

Motorola is reportedly working to create its first Android-based smartphone. The first phone based on Google’s open mobile operating system — T-Mobile’s G1 — will show up Oct. 22, and Motorola will apparently be joining the party at an undisclosed later date.

Still, a fashionably late entrance could be just fine: Motorola seems to be betting on a slicker design and social networking features to make sure it doesn’t leave the party alone.

More specifically, Motorola’s Android phone is expected to boast a touchscreen similar to the iconic touchscreen found on Apple’s iPhone, as well as a slide-out QWERTY keyboard with real, tactile buttons. The social networking features, according to BusinessWeek, would likely make it easy for users to connect to and interact via social networking powerhouses Facebook and MySpace.

Motorola is also said to be showing a new phone prototype to carriers, which may look similar to the G1 — though with a snazzier design.

Motorola just released a new feature phone, the Motorola Krave ZN4 for Verizon Wireless. While that flip phone has an innovative dual-touchscreen design, it’s not really a smartphone that’s ready to compete with the likes of the G1 and the iPhone.

Mum’s the Word

For its part, Motorola isn’t giving away much in terms of specifics.

“Motorola is pleased to see the industry enthusiasm and support of the Android operating system. As a pioneer in mobile Linux and a founder of OHA (the Open Handset Alliance), Motorola believes Android promises to be one of the most powerful, flexible and customizable open platforms, enabling truly integrated mobile hardware, software and Web experiences,” Becki Leonard, a spokesperson for Motorola, told LinuxInsider.

“We’re excited about the innovation possibilities on Android and look forward to delivering great products in partnership with Google and the Open Handset Alliance community,” she added.

The bottom line for Motorola, it seems, is that the company has to come up with a winner in its next generation of mobile devices. The company experienced meteoric sales with its Razr phone, but it has since produced a long and lingering line of solid devices that have nonetheless generally failed to excite consumers.

A New Era?

“We’ve entered a new era in mobile devices that is focused more around software and user experience rather than strict hardware design — and Motorola excelled in the previous era with products like the Razr, which quite literally set the standard using metal and a super-thin design,” Avi Greengart, research director of wireless devices for Current Analysis, told LinuxInsider.

“At that time, people realized their phone was something they were going to take with them everywhere, so having a more attractive phone, and one that had ‘pantability’ so that it could slip into a pant pocket without it feeling like a lump of coal, suddenly became important,” he explained.

The social networking feature focus of the rumored Motorola Android-based phone, then, would simultaneously meet the 24/7 connected needs of today’s social crowd as well as presumably appeal to a younger set of consumers.

The shift in focus to smart, socially networked, Internet-enabled, software-based phones presents a new sort of investment from Motorola. The company has reportedly gone on a hiring spree, trying to nab 350 Android-savvy developers.

Indeed, one recent job posting on noted, “We are a new start-up division within Motorola with strong executive level sponsorship, a 50M+ budget for our Android platform. Our new CEO, Sanjay Jha, has been in the forefront of the formation of the Android Open Handset Alliance!”

Still, even with the backing of Jha, Motorola could be playing catch-up.

“This is going to be a tremendous challenge for Motorola, because many of its offerings are fairly generic,” Greengart noted.

The question of the day, then, is when might Motorola’s Android phone appear. Some analysts have looked to late 2008, but that likelihood seems to be sliding.

“I have no idea, but I would not expect to see one this year,” Greengart said.

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