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Motorola building on Azingo?

There may also be a long delay before we see real results of a rumoured project at Motorola Mobility, with the firm reported to be developing its own web-based mobile OS. Like webOS and Chrome OS, this is unlikely to be targeting the same role as Android, of which Motorola is an avid supporter.

Instead, it will focus on the new wave of devices that are almost entirely geared to cloud services and streamed content, with stripped-down operating systems based on the browser (which can, like webOS, coexist with traditional systems like Android or Windows).

According to sources who spoke to Information Week, Motorola has hired engineers from Apple and Adobe to head up its project, and the firm did not deny the initiative, though it insisted it remained "committed to Android as an operating system".

Many of the headlines are sure to assume a new OS would eventually be an alternative to Android, which has issues such as fragmentation and over-control by Google. But in fact, a new-style browser-as-OS is a far more likely aim, and not necessarily incompatible with Android support.

Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Goldberg told the magazine: "I know they're working on a new OS. I think the company recognises that they need to differentiate, and they need options, just in case. Nobody wants to rely on a single supplier."

However, differentiation is not necessarily the issue with Android, given that Motorola has put considerable effort into creating its own overlay – Motoblur – and integrating non-Google elements, including the Baidu search engine, for some carriers. Far more serious is whether Android will continue to meet the needs of OEMs and operators when mobile cloud services become mainstream, even though that will take years.

And most observers will shudder at the thought of Motorola developing its own software platform – not its greatest strength – and going back to the bad old days when it supported several OSs, often flip-flopping between them. "They don't want to give Wall Street and developers the impression that they're going back to the Motorola of old where they're working on 50 million operating systems at once," Goldberg said.

A year ago, Motorola acquired Azingo, maker of the eponymous mobile OS, complete with WebKit browser, a widgets framework and customizable user interface. This was seen as a sign Motorola might work on its own platform in future, especially since Sanjay Jha, now CEO of Motorola Mobility, had recently said: "I've always felt that owning your OS is important, provided you have an ecosystem, you have all the services, and you have an ability and the scale to execute on keeping that OS at the leading edge."

Baidu's box computing

Also said to be considering a mobile web software platform of its own is Baidu. The UK Financial Times reported that the company was creating a "light operating system". This would not see the light of day for three to five years, according to sources, and so is likely to be targeting the new browser/OS wave too, rather than seeking to outdo Android – despite Google's challenges in Baidu's native China.

It seems the reports come from a project Baidu has described before: to put the search box at the heart of the user interface. CEO Robin Li said: "In the future, one second, you turn on the device, and you can start using the box. That's our mission for the future of the internet." Baidu has already integrated an apps engine with its search facility so that applications can be launched directly from the search box.

The company was working very closely with Symbian, though that is likely to change now. Last June, Baidu formed a joint venture with the Symbian Foundation to develop and promote its concept of "box computing". The new initiative, the Box Computing Joint Laboratory, hopes to draw in other vendors and carriers, to support Baidu's platform, originally unveiled the previous summer.

Box Computing was launched on the PC, allowing users to bypass the notebook's usual boot-up processes and access the web and key applications directly from the search box with "instant-on". The aim of the Symbian Alliance was to bring the same capability to smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices and the project has presumably given rise to the new reports of a mobile OS.

Copyright © 2011, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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