Will Motorola Go All-In On Android? It Has No Other Choice.

Motorola’s new co-CEO Sanjay Jha has a plan to save the beleaguered mobile handset maker: go all-in on Google’s Android mobile operating system. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (behind the pay wall):

Sanjay Jha, who also became Motorola’s co-chief executive in August, has decided to focus on Google Inc.’s Android operating system as the software platform for Motorola’s showcase phones, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Jha is expected to detail his plans — which will likely include thousands of layoffs — as early as Thursday when the company reports earnings, these people said.

The rumor is that Motorola will focus all of its efforts around three core operating systems for its phones, with Android becoming the central platform for “mid-tier” phones with Internet capability. The other two operating systems it will support will be Windows Mobile on the high end and its own P2K on the low end. In other words, Android phones will become its bread and butter.

Given this potential strategy, the 350-person Android team that Motorola is recruiting while it considers another massive round of layoffs elsewhere makes more sense. It’s Android-powered social networking phone looks like it will be the first of a long line of Internet-capable phones.

Betting the farm on Android would be a gutsy move, as it is still an unproven operating system. And, as Om points out, it could be too little, too late for Motorola’s cell phone business, which has not turned a profit since late 2006.

But really, what other choice does Motorola have? It is much better off piggybacking on an open-source operating system that rivals the iPhone’s than to try to create its own modern mobile OS that nobody else will care about. And for Android, this would be a major vote of confidence. It could become the equivalent of IBM’s embrace of Linux for enterprise servers during the past decade. Not only does it signal to the rest of teh mobile industry that Android is the OS to beat, but Motorola will no doubt put some major resources behind Android to bring it up to snuff, just as IBM has been a major contributor to Linux and other open-source projects.

This is the smartest thing Motorola has done in a long time.

Update 10/30/2008: Going with Android is indeed Motorola’s plan. But its first Android phones won’t be out until next Christmas. That is way too long to wait. I guess investors can just expect mounting losses until then.