Top Four Reasons Motorola Invested In UIQ (And Why Mobile Linux May Be In Trouble) - InformationWeek

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09:31 PM
Stephen Wellman
Stephen Wellman

Top Four Reasons Motorola Invested In UIQ (And Why Mobile Linux May Be In Trouble)

Earlier today Motorola announced that it acquired a 50% stake in UIQ, a smartphone interface technology that runs on the Symbian OS. What does Motorola hope to get out of this deal?

Earlier today Motorola announced that it acquired a 50% stake in UIQ, a smartphone interface technology that runs on the Symbian OS. What does Motorola hope to get out of this deal?Motorola has had a mixed history with UIQ and the Symbian ecosystem, aggressively launching new devices that run on UIQ and Symbian while also divesting itself financially of its stake in Symbian four years ago. Despite all these mixed messages in the past, it seems that Motorola is now fully back in the Symbian ecosystem -- and here four reasons why I think this makes sense for them.

1. Touchscreen Interfaces Are The Trend For 2008.

Two years ago I remember wireless industry insiders telling me that users hated touchscreens and that the success of BlackBerry and the decline of the Treo proved no one wanted touchscreens anymore. Well, it looks like consumers love devices with touchscreens, they just don't like smartphones that require the use of a stylus.

As my colleague Eric Zeman pointed out earlier today, the success of the iPhone and the HTC Touch have proven that consumers want touchscreen smartphones.

UIQ has the definitive touchscreen interface for the Symbian ecosystem. Given Symbian's command of the global smartphone market, Motorola can now gain control mindshare over the future of touchscreen devices in the global smartphone market.

2. Mobile Linux Has Yet To Succeed And May Never Pay Off.

Mobile Linux has been the perennial little engine that could for the last five years. Despite the fact that there are roughly 22 variations of mobile Linux in the marketplace, none of them has reached critical mass. Here are a couple of examples of mobile Linux's as-of-yet unrealized potential.

Two years ago MontaVista announced an embedded mobile Linux platform. Has this platform stolen any significant market share from Symbian or Microsoft? I haven't seen it steal any significant share to date (Linux fans, please chime in with some examples here if you know of them).

Earlier this year Ubuntu and Intel announced plans to launch their own mobile Linux platform. This platform was supposed to ship this month, along with an updated version of the regular Linux OS. We'll see if this mobile platform makes it to market on time. Until it ships -- and starts to take market share -- it's still just more mobile Linux hot air.

Why do I mention the history of mobile Linux? Because Motorola has a long history of Linux-based smartphones and other mobile devices. Yet, after launching this many Linux mobile phones, Motorola has yet to find the Linux-equivalent of the Razr (or a Windows-powered one, for that matter). In short, all this experimentation with Linux has not produced a smash hit device.

I think Motorola's investment in UIQ is a sign that mobile Linux is not quite ready for primetime and that it may not be for a while.

3. Motorola Needs Ammunition With Which To Fight The Growing Threat Of Apple And Google.

At the end of last week I pointed out how Nokia is massing an arsenal with which to challenge Google in the mobile Web. I think Motorola is more exposed to Google's threat than Nokia. This deal looks like an attempt to counter Google's mobile applications and the looming threat of the gPhone.

On top of this, Motorola is scrambling for a hit mobile device and, more importantly, for an answer to the iPhone (so far the Z8 doesn't look it's really going to challenge the iPhone).

4. Motorola Has To Challenge S60 If It's Going To Tackle Nokia's Global Lead.

Nokia continues to grow it's share of the mobile device market, while Motorola has recently lost share. While the number two slot in the handset market has switched places between Motorola and Samsung in recent years, Nokia has continued to maintain its place at the top.

If Motorola is going to challenge Nokia, it also need to make sure that Nokia's smartphone interface, S60, has some serious competition. Motorola thus has a vested interest in helping S60's rival Symbian interface, UIQ, succeed. Also, as UIQ becomes more successful, Motorola can try to steal developers away from the S60 camp and lure them into the UIQ ecosystem.

Motorola doesn't have to score a knockout punch here, it just needs to help UIQ challenge S60 and steal share among Symbian's other partners.

What do you think? Why do you think Motorola invested in UIQ? Do you think this move is a bad sign for the future of mobile Linux? And can UIQ help Motorola get its grove back?

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