Google to acquire Motorola Mobility

Major news to start the week.  Google will dish out $12.5B for Motorola’s mobile phone making arm.  This signals the search giant’s first significant commitment to hardware in the mobile space.

The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.

— Google Press Release

What does this mean for the likes of Samsung, LG, and other Android-dependent manufacturers? I guess time will tell.

via This is my next

Matt Drance on Google’s patent lamentations

From Apple Outsider:

It is a textbook example of why you don’t open your mouth before you’re ready to talk. This was a chance to set the record straight and turn the tables in this debate, and Google blew it. Most of the mistakes made were simple, avoidable failures of communication.

Like Drance, I agree with Google’s core premise that the patent system seems broken, but they failed to articulate the core issues and came off as whiny losers under the current rules of the game.

Marco Arment: “Own your identity”

The developer of Instapaper and one of the founders of Tumblr on Google+ and taking ownership of your online life:

If you care about your online presence, you must own it. I do, and that’s why my email address has always been at my own domain, not the domain of any employer or webmail service.

You might think your @gmail.com address will be fine indefinitely, but if I used a webmail address from the best webmail provider at the time I broke away from my university address and formed my own identity, it would have ended in @hotmail.com. And that wasn’t very long ago.

Locking your identity in won’t prevent a major social service from succeeding. Sadly, most people don’t care about giving control of their online identity to current or future advertising companies.

(from marco.org)

AT&T goes after Google Voice

For those who think AT&T had no blood on their hands regarding the Google Voice iPhone app, you might be right. That doesn’t mean they like the service though. Phonescoop is reporting that they have filed a complaint against Google for blocking certain numbers.

AT&T alleges that Google Voice blocks customers from calling certain numbers, thereby violating FCC regulations. AT&T likens the call-blocking to the call for net neutrality, and says that if phone companies need to all play by the same rules, then so do internet companies such as Google. Google Voice is a call-forwarding system that lets users give out one central phone number and have it ring other phone lines when called. It allows users to maintain some degree of privacy, as well as consolidate services. Google does block Voice customers from calling adult chat lines and some conference call systems due to the high fees levied by those services.

The Google Voice iPhone app saga goes to the FCC [Updated]

USA Today is reporting (via MacRumors) that comments are being filed with the FCC regarding Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app in the iPhone App Store.  Apparently, Apple is not the only company facing questions.  Google may have some questions to answer on the related subject of the crippled version of Skype on their Android operating system.

Why: Consumers who use Android, the Google-developed operating system for wireless devices, can’t use Skype, a leading Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. A pioneer in free Internet calling, Skype allows you to talk as long as you want without draining cellphone minutes.

Android users get Skype Lite, a watered-down version of the original that routes calls over traditional phone networks — not the Internet. As a result, long-distance calls are still cheap or free, but cellphone minutes are gobbled up every time a Skype Lite call is made…

…Google’s explanation would seem to suggest that T-Mobile requested the block on Skype, but the carrier says that’s not the case. “T-Mobile has not asked Google to block that service,” says spokesman Joe Farren, referring to original Skype [sic]. — USA Today

In both of these cases, it is clear that neither the carriers nor OS providers want to take the blame.  Maybe the FCC can break this problem open and make progress, but as stated before, “consider me skeptical.”

UPDATE: Apple says it acted alone in rejecting the app.  Something still smells fishy here, but if this is the case, bad Apple!

The FCC wants to know more about the GV app rejection

Via MacRumors:

In letters sent late Friday to the three companies, the FCC asked why Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone and removed related “third-party applications” from its store.

The letter also seeks information on how AT&T was consulted in the decision, if at all.

According to the article, this is part of a broader investigation of the telecom industry that is looking at AT&T and Verizon specifically for potential anti-competitive behavior.

Hopefully some real answers and positive change will come out of this, but consider me skeptical.

Regarding Google Voice, the iPhone, and rejection

Today has brought yet another big fuss about Apple rejecting an iPhone App Store submission.  This time it wasn’t some random developer but none other than Google.  The app was a companion to the Google Voice (GV) service, which ironically, I just received an invitation to yesterday.  The blame and outrage has been pretty evenly spread between Apple and AT&T and rightly so.  The problem I have with some of the commentary out there now is that everyone seems to be making assumptions and illogical leaps to back up their claim on who is at fault.  For example GigaOm writes:

…Some allege that Apple is doing this at AT&T’s behest.

That is just flat-out wrong: If it were true, then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well. As of this morning, everything is working fine on my AT&T-connected Bold (except for the usual dropped calls, of course). And are people forgetting that you need AT&T’s voice network to send and receive Google Voice calls?

The problem with this is that you can get the GV app for the BlackBerry directly from Google.  There is no app-store-like gatekeeper in the case of the BlackBerry when it comes to this app.  I’m not sure how AT&T could ban this app on a BlackBerry.  Perhaps there is a simple answer to this that I am unaware of, but on the surface, I don’t think there is a way.  The same argument could be made when the Sling Player debacle is brought up for comparison.

This statement also attempts to minimize AT&T’s concern based on the fact you still must use AT&T lines to dial.  This is true, but it doesn’t account for those precious SMS messages for which AT&T likes to charge way too much.  If Google can offer unlimited text messages for free, most people would drop that $20 per month plan they have with Ma Bell.

I also would not underestimate the power that GV takes away from the carrier as a reason for AT&T to disapprove.  GV gives the end user much more control over their telephone number than the typical mobile service does.  With GV, I can choose which phones ring when someone calls.  I can mark annoying callers as spam.  I can change mobile numbers any time I want, and once I update GV, it is completely transparent to those calling on my GV number.  It really takes number portability to the next level in my mind.

It also takes the visual voicemail concept a step further by not only giving access to voicemail in an e-mail-like view, but also adding voicemail transcription as well.  Perhaps this didn’t sit to well with Apple who might see this as Google one-upping them on their own home field.  This along with the fact that Google is one of Apple’s up and coming rivals in the modern wireless handset wars could have lead to Apple’s disapproval.  This fact was not lost on John Gruber of Daring Fireball:

And, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I’m not sure the decision is entirely unreasonable. Don’t think about it in terms of Apple’s relationship with its carrier partners, but instead think about it in terms of Apple’s competition with Google. Google Voice is a mobile phone service provided by the maker of one of the biggest competitors to the iPhone OS. What if Google Voice were instead Microsoft Voice? And what if Windows Mobile were as modern and competitive as Android? Would you be as surprised then that Apple is discouraging iPhone owners from using the service? Just saying.

According to Gruber’s sources, it was AT&T in the end that killed this app likely for many of the reasons stated above, but I’m not inclined to let Apple off the hook so easily.  In the end it is the Apple iPhone and App Store, so at least some of the blame has to come back to them.  GV has the opportunity to be a game changer, and the iPhone had the potential to showcase it well, but for now, it’s just another case of a disappointing App Store rejection and a stifling of innovation on state of the art technology.

Safari 4 Public Beta (Updated)

button-download-icon-20090217

Apple has released a public beta of version four it’s Web browser, Safari. I haven’t had much time to play with it, but it’s UI enhancements look very slick and are eerily similar to Google’s Chrome browser. It will be interesting to see what the reaction will be.

UPDATE: C|Net has posted some initial benchmarks. Safari 4 is apparently really fast.

.Mac 2.0 = Google Apps?

In his Business 2.0 blog, Erick Schonfeld speculates that at the upcoming Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Steve Jobs may announce that Apple’s .Mac Web service will become fully integrated with Google’s “Webtop” apps or possibly be replaced by them altogether.

This is an interesting idea that I’ve thought about since I’ve noticed the rise of GMail and the lackluster attempt of .Mac to keep up with GMail’s standards (and other free services for that matter, keep in mind .Mac is $99/year). While I severely doubt .Mac will be replaced altogether, I think that it is very possible to see tight integration of existing Apple apps (Mail, iCal, etc.) with Google’s services.

I can definitely see Google taking over the backend portion of the service, but I can’t see Apple giving up the frontend. The user interface is what Apple does best. The Webmail interface of .Mac is much better than GMail in my opinion. I’m also still a bit tethered to work in client apps. I really like apps that take the best of using clientside and Web apps and meld them together. Last.fm is a great example of that. Jobs himself discussed this concept at length in his joint interview with Bill Gates at the D: All Things Digital conference, and as Schonfeld mentioned, when asked about .Mac innovation, Jobs said, “stay tuned.”

I guess we’ll see what happens next week.