Google’s Motorola Mobility acquisition and Android in China

Having worked at Motorola for over a year and a half now, I come to realize just how quickly the mobile industry moves and grows, and just how volatile it can be. In January, Motorola split into Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility. While the day-to-day work experience really did not change at all, besides maybe some internal websites changing, it was a huge wake-up call–while Motorola had been struggling to make gains in the mobile communications space, we had always considered the company to be a Titanic–too large to fail. Our only worry was also being too large to move, allowing our competitors, a speedboat called HTC and a massive submarine named Samsung, to move faster in our waters. We knew and know that our products need improvement, and that they could be better, and strived to move past tangible levels of company politics to create a better user experience for the people who use our phones.

A few days ago, I woke up to my Bionic’s email alert sound. Drowsily looking at my phone, I was expecting an email regarding a regression that our China team needed to fix. Instead I got an internal message from Sanjay announcing that Google had purchased us. I was ecstatic–not that the regression had been fixed (okay, partially because the regression had been fixed), but because Google’s becoming our new overlords could be the kick that we have needed for a long time.

Let me be clear, the majority of Motorola’s engineers are very cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses that we have in the industry. We are also aware of our trailing place in the mobile phone market, and our struggling, but very gradually improving status in the smart phone and tablet space. The employees at Motorola work at Motorola despite the company being in a struggling state because we believe that we can help save the company, make our devices better, and make our customers happier. Having fought the fight the so long, Google’s announcing our acquisition meant many things for us: confirmation that our hard work meant something, freedom from worries of operating at a loss, domination over our competitors (despite the fact that we are still operating rather separately), a breath of fresh culture, a more abominable, yet, more agile Titanic to pursue excellence with, and the notorious Google food. The meeting we had to discuss our acquisition was filled with smiles I had not seen for a really long time.

The press quickly went crazy over the news of the acquisition. None of us got much done at work because we spent time speculating: Why did they buy us? What about layoffs? Will we be able to improve to have code that is up to Google standards? Will we face the same fate as Palm? Can we finally rm -rf that MOTOBLUR directory? Should we call it Googorola or Moogle? At the end of the work day, we still did not understand why Larry Page decided us “welcome Motorolans to [his] family of Googlers”. But what the press did not talk about was the team I work with every night from 9PM to 3AM – the Motorola Mobility China Team.

Android has a larger presence than Americans could ever imagine in Mainland China. In January, over 50% of smart phones in the Mainland were running Android. Considering that like the rest of East Asia either runs almost entirely on smart phones or is running to smart phones, and remembering the 1.3 billion head population, this is huge. For Google, Android is the company’s only foot in the door. Everyone in China knows that Google is a economic, financial, and even political powerhouse. Everyone knows about the censorship fiasco that occurred in the Mainland, causing the monolith to essentially run and hide in Hong Kong. What the press is forgetting is that Google’s purchasing Motorola Mobility means that Google will directly have software and hardware devs in the Mainland, all working on an OS that is dominating the continent.

Motorola and Nokia phones have strong product recognition in China, where they make up 90 percent of all mobile phones. Motorola also controls approximately 20% of the smartphone market. While Google’s presence is in China, Google has never managed to successfully operate in the Mainland–and it’s not that Google has not been continuously trying. By purchasing Motorola Mobility, Google is instantly becomes a large and significant operator in Nanking, but also has the ability to maintain that they are running Motorola as a separate brand and division separated from the bulk of the company. Hence, Google not only has the benefit of controlling the stack like Apple does, 17 000 patents, and instant control over 29% of the global Android OEM market–Google will have over 20% of the handset market in Mainland China, the world’s fastest growing and most populous market, along with an operating branch which has a name that can take the potential hits dealt out by the Chinese government.

The air at Moogle is a lot lighter right now. It is more hopeful now. For both companies, this may be a serious win-win, or at least a very exciting story.

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Asian-American web culture defines “Asia” as an interest, not an identity

Four years ago, I helped out with building and moderating an “Asian social networking site” named Asian-Central, a start-up coming out of Stanford. The website was a Facebook-esque profile-based site–essentially what would result from the combination of Facebook and a culture-agnostic Soompi. One of the sites’ huge innovations, however, was the additional of the “rice bowl”, a point based system where users would collect rice points based on how much they were interacting with each other. The users with the greatest number of points were displayed on the main landing page in a leaderboard. Asian-Central members worked hard to accumulate rice points, but general consensus of the membership was that this grand accumulation effort was not to be on the leaderboard, nor was it to compete with others. Asian-Central members wanted to gain rice points simply because the concept of having a rice bowl was “cute and appealing” to them.

The rice bowl was not significant because it was catalyst for interaction. It was significant because if a feature named “rice bowl” popped onto a social network in Asia, such as Mixi or CyWorld, the general question would be: “Why does it have to be a rice bowl?” Social networking users in Asia are not foreign to point systems. In fact, they are extremely accustomed to them. Popular Asian MMORPGs, forums, and social many networking-enabled webpages run on point systems. These points often come in the form of gold, acorns, or just generic points. But to Asians, rice is a bit boring, and lacks any appeal: “It’s not a currency… would Americans have bread points?”, asks Jisun C. from South Korea.
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South Koreans are Sociable Social Networkers

It’s easy to overgeneralize East Asian cultures into a single culture. It is furthermore just as easy to overgeneralize East Asian internet cultures into a single web-culture. But when all generalizations on web-culture are dropped, it is easy to realize that the variety of interactions in any web-culture is too great to break into smaller groups. So let’s do what shouldn’t be done, and overgeneralize for a bit – let’s look at East Asian social networking behavior. The most active users of social networking sites (SNS), and SNS provided APIs are internet users in the United States. Second to American internet users are East Asians. Breaking the SNS usage focus these two groups down into individual states, Americans tend to aim to broadcast their own generated content, treating SNS as their own news broadcasts. With a gigantic population, Mainland Chinese SNS users are decently balanced, but lean slightly towards SNS based multiplayer gaming and ‘wall-to-wall’ communication. Japanese SNS users are very different, focusing on high privacy diary-like blogs which are networked with users that closely mimic their physical friend circles. Finally, Korean SNS users are heavily engaged in voiced opinion, spending most of their time on online community forums/chat and connected blogs which barely resemble physical friend circles.
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Posted in South Korea, Web Culture | 1 Comment

Changing Winds in the Japanese Mobile Phone Industry

Exactly a year ago, I started up at Motorola, when it was still just ‘Motorola’, and watched as the Western phone industry simply pummeled the East in terms of raw hardware processing power and simple software capability. RIM was still alive at the time, Apple was still beating out every individual smart phone maker, Motorola was establishing itself as an Android powerhouse, and Nokia still held onto its control of the dumbphone market. Sure, HTC had a strong hold of the Android market then, and Samsung remains very prolific, but there was no longer the several year gap between Asian and Western mobile phone technology. The West was now winning by both numbers, hardware prowess, and software superiority.

I was just beginning my specific focus on studying the Japanese and Korean cell phone markets under Jeff Shrager, and increasingly noticed that the Japanese mobile phone industry, which had always been famous for crazy designs and outstanding functionality, seemed stagnant. As I kept digging into my research, causes ranging across the entire spectrum seemed to have sent the Japanese phone industry into a coma.
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Infinite Passport

Technology hasn’t brought the world closer together.

It’s a bit more nuanced than that. Computers, the internet, and cell phones were once thought to bring us all together, into one ‘global’ network. But even though we are all digitally tied to each other, we haven’t connected on any true level. It’s not about capability. The YouTube sensation in Vancouver, Canada is not yet conversing, without worry of language barriers or cultural differences, with the RenRen graphics designer based in Shanghai, China. The CyWorld user in Seoul, Korea, is not yet writing on the wall of the Facebook user in Taipei, Taiwan. They could, but they don’t… most of the time.

Unless there are specific interests, groups self organize. It makes sense. People native to Japan are at least the most familiar with Japanese language, customs, and culture. It is logical that languages, customs, and culture translate to the internet as well. As Americans do, Japanese internet users tend to use websites in the Japanese language which display topics relevant to Japanese people. Each culture has translated itself to the internet and interacts within the realms of its own self-defined and auto-generated boundaries. Digital communication is not a single mesh of connections. The world has not just melded into one. Rather, digital communication has become an electronic representation of each country, culture, language, and subculture. The identities of the world are preserved. The countries of the world are preserved. It’s just much easier to get from place to place.

Unless governments continue to decide that emails, text messages, and websites deserve borders, digital communication media will proceed to serve as an infinite passport to the different cultures around as. No region has evolved in forms of mobile, digital, and internet communication more uniquely or independently than East Asia. In this blog hope to document and discuss these distinct evolutions, their movements, their trends, their differences, their similarities, their reasonings, and their impact.


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