Motorola Bolsters Android Push with 280 North Buy

Motorola, in a sign of its commitment to the Google Android operating system, has reportedly purchased 280 North, an open-source applications developer.

Motorola, in a move that would nod to its dedication to the Android mobile platform, has reportedly purchased app-building startup 280 North for the unconfirmed figure of $20 million.

Techcrunch first reported the acquisition Aug. 24, citing confirmation by an unnamed Motorola spokesperson. Reuters later also reported that Motorola, while again not disclosing the purchase price, confirmed that the deal took place earlier this summer.

"The transaction provides Motorola with specialized Web-app engineering talent and technology that will help facilitate the continued expansion of Motorola's application ecosystem," Motorola spokesperson Tama McWhinney told Reuters. "We believe 280 North will be instrumental in helping us continue to foster the Android ecosystem with innovative Web-based technologies and applications."

The open-source-supporting 280 North is known for two applications in particular-280 Slides, which helps users easily put together browser-based presentations, and Cappuccino, a framework 280 North describes on its Website for building "desktop-caliber applications that run in a Web browser."

"Everybody can develop on Android," Ken Hyers, an analyst with Technology Business Research, told eWEEK. "[Motorola really needs] to differentiate themselves, which happens one of two ways. They can go the hardware route, which is tough to chase-whatever improvements they make, their competitors can make as well." Instead, says Hyers, Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha is focusing more on the software.

During the second quarter of 2010, Motorola's market share in the worldwide mobile device category fell to 2.8 percent, according to research firm Gartner, compared with the 5.6 percent it held a year earlier. In the smartphone space-which accounts for a third of the handsets Motorola shipped during the quarter-rivals HTC and Research In Motion put in strong performances, knocking Motorola from the top-five rankings.

A significant part of its strategy to rebuild its brand has been its adoption of Android, and to this end, it has introduced the Droid, the Backflip, the Devour, the Cliq and Clit XT, and the i1 smartphones.

"Motorola's reincarnation as a smartphone specialist is broadly on track, with much riding on the success of the premium Droid X model over the coming months," Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Mawston wrote in a July 30 report.

Motorola has since also launched the Droid 2 to strong reviews. Repair service iFixit described it as a perfect upgrade from the Droid, with Motorola leaving well-enough alone and adjusting only features with room for improvement. In tests, eWEEK also described the Droid 2 as a "vast improvement" over the original.

In addition to the Android OS, Motorola has enhanced its handsets with a MotoBlur user interface-an area the 280 North acquisition can meaningfully contribute to. (While calling MotoBlur "relevant," "differentiating" and "important," Jha has said the company will stop promoting it by name, as it's difficult to convey the value of the UI in the sound bite of an advertisement.)

TBR's Hyers said the acquisition will give Motorola more UI expertise and-with two of three of 280 North's principals coming from Apple-some important user capital.

"It's about developing a flavor of their own on Android," Hyers said, and "making the Android experience on a Motorola device different from Android on an HTC or Samsung."