One of the biggest questions surrounding the "New Motorola" after the Google acquisition is a simple one: if it's owned by Google, why isn't it shipping stock Android software on its new RAZR M and RAZR HD phones? We presumed the answer was a simple one: Verizon's demands, and Motorola has essentially confirmed that assessment.
Speaking to a group of reporters last night, Motorola Senior Vice President, Product Rick Osterloh pointed out the company's main focuses going forward, and one of them was obviously Android. Specifically, he addressed the question of shipping unaltered, stock Android software on phones.
Going forward, we’re going to try to be as close to the base as we can be, because we think that’s the right thing for users. We think users also want fast upgrades and upgrades for their phones over the long haul, so we’re going to be focus on that as well. It’s a little bit different than what a lot of OEMs are doing and certainly what Motorola did in the past, but going forward that’s going to be our strategy.
The phrase "as we can be" is remarkable, because it implies that Motorola, which is owned by Google, doesn't have the power to release phones without custom software on top of it. The RAZR HD is a perfect example: it's very close to stock Android, but there is a custom skin and some custom Verizon software to be found on it. It's also shipping with Android 4.0 instead of the latest version, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, though an upgrade is slated for later in the year.
"Generally we negotiate somewhere in the middle."
"We are going to have to do some customization," Osterloh told us. Pressed on whether it was specifically carriers that were the driving force behind the "customization," Osterloh said that "Our partners sometimes want customizations. [...] Our interest is to make it as close to Android as possible and generally we negotiate somewhere in the middle."
There have been persistent rumors that Google and its partners may release multiple "Nexus" devices this fall with stock Android, but it's unknown whether that will actually happen. It's notable that there haven't been any rumors of a Motorola-made Nexus device, and that Motorola hasn't had a stock Android device since the Xoom tablet.
Motorola hasn't had great success with its Android devices outside of Verizon's network, whose "Droid" branding and aggressive holiday marketing has been one of the main reasons that the RAZR line has gained some traction. For those hoping to see un-customized Android gain success in the market, Motorola is doing what it "can," but apparently its hands are tied. There's a clear difference between Motorola's philosophy and what it's actually doing in the market. "In general, we think it’s the right approach to basically be shipping Android. It’s easier to upgrade."
The silver lining is that Motorola is saying that it will at least be aggressive in releasing software updates for its phones going forward. With any luck, neither its customizations nor its carrier partners will hamper that effort.