Motorola's Denial About Dumping Google Actually Sounds Like an Admission

Last Updated Mar 25, 2011 3:00 AM EDT

Yesterday came a report from InformationWeek that Motorola Mobility (MMI) was building a web-based mobile operating system to hedge its bets with Google (GOOG) Android.

Of course, such a story any such report could be wrong, but it's still useful to consider the logical implications and what might cause such a move. Apparently, that speculation and the original report spooked Moto to such a degree that its PR firm sent out a statement to "clarify" its position. But the combination of that statement and a subsequent answer to a blunt question were so evasive as to effectively acknowledge that something is, indeed, going on.

Here's the statement, as originally sent by Motorola's PR firm:

Motorola Mobility remains committed the Android operating system. We have hired employees with HTML skills to enable the best browsing experience to consumers and our strategic focus on the Android platform has not changed.
If there were nothing to the rumor, then a simple "there is no truth to the story" would work. However, that's not what the company offered. Time for some deconstruction:
  • "Motorola Mobility remains committed the Android operating system." -- Motorola has been developing Android-based phones and chances are that development work for future phones continues. There may also be contractual obligations. However, the sentence doesn't counter anything in the InformationWeek story.
  • "We have hired employees with HTML skills to enable the best browsing experience to consumers--" -- This one is fascinating. Of course the company has hired people with HTML skills for years, as even Android sports a browser. That would go to improving the browser experience. But the InformationWeek story suggested a Web-based operating system, which would likely mean a browser atop an operating system kernel, the way Google is building Chrome OS. That, too, would require "the best browsing experience" for customers and HTML expertise.
  • "... and our strategic focus on the Android platform has not changed." â€" Another non-statement, given that Motorola didn't say what its strategic focus on Android has been. Also, a hedge against problems with Android wouldn't change its strategic importance. Such a project would only give Motorola a way to address what to do should problems (and lawsuits) continue to mount over its use of Android. And, according to Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek, over the last nine months, Motorola has hired high level engineering expertise that would be a natural fit for such a project. What's the statute of limitations on strategic focus?
The statement was suspicious enough that I posed the company the following question:
Are you saying that Motorola has no plans or intentions of creating its own web-based mobile operating system? Because the statement as written doesn't address that fundamental question.
I also telephoned. The PR representative said that I'd get an answer soon, which generally means the person is getting instructions on what to say. Here is the final answer:
Our focus on the Android platform has not changed.
Bingo! Motorola apparently cannot or will not state flatly that it is not working on a potential replacement for Android. According to InformationWeek, a Deutsche Bank analyst said, "I know they're working on it."

Here's a Nancy Reagan suggestion to Motorola: If you really want to deny that you are building an alternative to Google Android, Just Say No.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.