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Jump Before Being Pushed?

Gordon Kelly


Motoblur Fade Beginning of the End for Custom UIs?

Late on Monday night Motorola CEO Dr Sanjay Jha said something seemingly innocuous...

Speaking during the company's Q2 2010 earnings call AndroidandMe.com quotes him a saying Motorola will no longer focus its marketing efforts on promoting its Motoblur custom Android UI:

"With Motoblur, we have found that being able to convey the value proposition around Motoblur is not an easy thing to do in a 30-second ad spot," he explained.

"We have decided that we will focus on the value proposition of products and not Motoblur as a brand name in its own right. Motoblur continues to be important and I think you will see increased functionality in Motoblur. This notion of push-Internet is going to be very important to us, but as a brand name, which we make matter in front of consumers as a brand name, I don't think that's going to be our focus going forward, but we see the experiences that we deliver as being relevant and differentiating us."

In short: the MotoBlur brand is going to fade from view, but the company's customisation of Android will continue. Or will it?

Technology companies are notoriously gun shy of being seen to drop products, especially those they have spent a great deal of time and money promoting. The fear is an admission of failure, even if it makes perfect sense, with the ultimate goal a gradual withdrawal done so smoothly that nobody notices... or cares.

To that extent Motorola may have already begun. In January it launched the Motoblur free Motoroi in Korea to such success it produced the XT720, another vanilla Android variant of it for the European and US markets. It has also stripped all Motoblur branding from its most recent flagship handset, the Droid X.

That's not to say custom UIs aren't without their benefits. Most notably they provide a key differentiator for companies looking to distinguish their handsets from rival devices which are often physically and technologically similar. In the past skins have also been vital in making up for the shortcomings in Windows Mobile and past Android builds.

The problem is mobile operating systems have moved on significantly in recent times, and the speed at which their firmware updates evolve their platforms now outstrips the efforts of handset makers to keep ahead of them. After all, what good is a shinier skin when it may hold back your phone from the likes of Google Maps Navigation introduced in Android 2.0 or the 450 per cent speed bump and Flash integration seen in Android 2.2? There is an argument that custom UIs should have the option to be switched on or off, but over time compatibility becomes a problem and a lack of maintenance with skins for legacy models is already an area of great user contention.

Beyond these tit for tat arguments, however, is a much larger issue: soon handset makers won't have a choice.

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