Motorola buys Good Technology to level the playing field

Motorola's move may spark fierce competition among itself RIM and Nokia in the mobile email space.

In a move that some mobility experts say will shake up the industry, device maker Motorola has bought privately held mobile email vendor Good Technology Inc.

Motorola's purchase of Good levels the playing field and will spark intense competition in the device and mobile email markets. The Motorola/Good pairing is poised to rival similar device and software offerings from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) and Nokia, which rounded out its offerings late last year by purchasing Intellisync, a maker of wireless email middleware.

According to Motorola, the deal will enhance its mobile computing portfolio. Good Technology makes Good Mobile Messaging, a mobile email offering that works on several mobile platforms and operating systems and can be used on various devices, including different versions of the Palm Treo and Motorola's own Q.

"The addition of Good Technology will advance Motorola's vision of seamless mobility," Motorola mobile devices business president Ron Garriques said in a statement. He added: "This acquisition will continue to strengthen Motorola as a leading provider of mobility devices and solutions both for enterprise customers and consumers."

Jack Gold, president and founder of J. Gold Associates, a Northborough, Mass.-based research and advisory firm, said the purchase was Motorola's delayed reaction to Nokia's acquisition of Intellisync. The deal, he said, will "dramatically reshape the wireless email marketplace," giving Motorola enough of an edge to compete with both Nokia and RIM.

In becoming a solid competitor, however, the Motorola/Good partnership could leave some Good users in the dark, namely those who use Good on Palm Treos, the core of Good's business.

"The acquisition will severely constrain a major relationship that has put Good on the map -- the one with Palm and the Treo devices, a very large part of Good's business," Gold said. "I do not think Palm will be keen to open the kimono to Good for future products."

For the many users of Palm Treos with Good Mobile Messaging, this could mean limited device choice in the future, especially if Good and Palm part ways when Motorola and Good finalize the deal early next year.

"Good has to work closely with device makers to get their stuff ported onto the machines," Gold said. "It is unlikely device makers will be keen to show Good the new goods if they are part of Motorola.

"But this equally puts pressure on Palm, as their leading email app just got purchased by a competitor," Gold continued, later adding, "I think this gives Palm more incentive to promote the Windows platform over the Palm OS [because] Windows Mobile – at least the latest versions – does not require a third-party client. Also, [Microsoft] had a decent relationship with Good for older Windows Mobile devices that needed the Good Technology to work in wireless push mode."

Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said users should not worry in the short term.

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"Motorola promises to ensure device diversity with the Good Solution and, at least for the short- to medium-term horizon, there is no reason to doubt their commitment to doing that," Greengart said. "But the reason for a handset vendor to purchase an email/middleware solution is to create an end-to-end ecosystem. Right now, RIM is having unrivaled success with that -- mostly homegrown -- business model."

Greengart noted, however, that building an end-to-end system via acquisition is not always a slam dunk.

"Nokia has struggled to integrate the various pieces of its Intellisync middleware and business handset offerings into a package that effectively competes against RIM," he said. "I would expect that, longer term, Motorola hopes to use Good to provide seamless email capabilities for its mobile Linux offerings, which could lessen Motorola's dependence on Microsoft."

Despite the potential for limited device choice, the acquisition also gives Good users a more stable mobile email provider. Good, which was privately held and never disclosed financials, was rumored to be on shaky fiscal ground.

"Good users get a company with staying power and deep pockets," Gold said. "Good was not that well-funded. They had enough, but certainly not the war chest of Moto."

Motorola users will get enhanced capability when Moto starts loading Good clients on devices.

"But I am not sure it will really mean much, since users can get the products now from Good," Gold said. "And the [Motorola] Q, for example, already works with Microsoft Exchange using Direct Push -- though not older versions, nor does it work with Notes without a third-party application like Good. This will only work with Moto high-end machines like the Q, not the lower-end devices."

Gold said that overall the deal is a questionable move for Motorola and is unlikely to help its device sales, and there is uncertainty as to whether Motorola will be able to manage this type of acquisition successfully, especially with its history of failed purchases.

Earlier this year Motorola purchased Symbol Technologies, a sign that the company is looking to get deeper into the enterprise.

"The biggest effect will be on Palm, though not immediate," Gold said. "This weakens them overall in the market and pushes them closer to Microsoft. RIM gains another competitor with much deeper pockets than Good had to promote their products. And Nokia now has a strong competitor [that] can offer a complete solution, just like they do with Intellisync."

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