What Google's Motorola buy means for Android, patents and your TV

The real reasons behind Google's decision to say Hello Moto...

The real reasons behind Google's decision to say Hello Moto...

Google's plans to buy Motorola Mobility should surprise nobody. Motorola is an obvious target for acquisition in the hyper-competitive, cut-throat mobile market, its star having faded somewhat since the glory days of the Razr.

Analyst house Gartner's latest report on the mobile device market shows Motorola in eighth place in the second quarter of this year, with just a 2.4 per cent market share. On top of that, the company has been Android-only since 2008, making it an easy fit for Google.

The rapid success of Android in the mobile space - beating its way to the top of the smartphone OS charts with a 43.4 per cent market share in the second quarter of this year - has not been without its challenges. Not least is that working with handset makers has meant Google has ceded some control over hardware and software, and as such the result has not always been the kind of Android experience Google wants to create.

Motorola Google Android

Motorola's mobile phones have been Android-only since 2008, making it an easy fit for GoogleImage: Motorola/Android/silicon.com

Android has been accused of fragmentation, with multiple versions of the operating system being used on different devices. And often handsets are not updated to the latest and greatest version of the OS - some remaining siloed in older versions of Android, frustrating users who are cut off from new features.

Proprietary skins on top of Android devices enable fancy graphics and other bells and whistles - but they can also slow the experience down, making it sluggish and cumbersome, the opposite of what Google surely wants to achieve. Such complications are the opposite of the simplicity of Apple's iOS, Google's big rival in the smartphone space. Buying Motorola gives Google greater influence over how its software is used, and gives it a better way of challenging Apple.

Indeed, Apple, HP - with its webOS, RIM and now Google can all offer an integrated stack of hardware and software, suggesting they think this gives them a real advantage in terms of creating innovative devices.

The big Android phone makers - HTC, LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson - have all welcomed the move as "defending Android", but it would be understandable if they were worried about Google having it's own mobile hardware division. Google insists Android will remain open, but how open exactly?

Two-tier Android ecosystem

By pocketing Motorola there is a risk Google could create a two-tier Android ecosystem. The risk then is of other mobile makers cooling on the platform - if they see themselves being downgraded to second-class citizens of the Android ecosystem.

"I think that is a very real possibility," says Ovum analyst Nick Dillon. "If Google do start providing preferential access to code or whatever else to their own handset business then that could seriously upset the Android ecosystem. It's a big risk to the handset makers who are using Android and may cause them to reassess their commitment to the platform and potentially look outside the platform to other alternatives."

Being open source has meant Google has benefited from...

...all manner of mobile makers sticking its OS on their hardware. As a newcomer to a fiercely competitive market, this approach gave Google scale - the ability to bring an army of Androids flooding into the market. From Android's launch in 2008 it's taken but a few short years to knock Nokia's Symbian off the OS top spot.

But in recent years Google has also sought to bring a bit of discipline to this army by creating its own Google logo-bearing range of Android smartphones, the Nexus series. It has also sought to impose more controls over Android by requiring licensees to meet certain requirements in order to be able to ship their devices with the Android Market on them and, most recently, holding back the open-source release of Android 3.0, as Ovum's Dillon notes: "There have been certain moves over the last couple of years of Google seemingly wanting to exert greater control over the platform - not just in how it's developed but how it's actually implemented."

Google has worked with third-party mobile makers on the Nexus devices, with both HTC and Samsung creating devices for Google's range. With Motorola's hardware division now inhouse, Google will be able to have a greater degree of control over the hardware and - in Larry Page's words - "supercharge" the Android experience. "It is just an extension of that strategy: exert greater control over the platform," says Dillon.

Real motive?

But underneath all the shiny hardware and slick software is an even bigger motivating force for Google pocketing Motorola: patents. Google's SVP and chief legal officer recently posted a blog complaining of "a hostile, organised campaign against Android by Microsoft, Oracle, Apple and other companies, waged through bogus patents".

And earlier this year a consortium of companies that included Apple and Microsoft bought some 6,000 patents and patent applications owned by Nortel Networks. Google had also been bidding for the patents but lost out to those unlikely bedfellows.

With the Motorola acquisition, Google pockets 17,000 patents - with which it will surely hope to be able to defend Android from death by lawsuit. A recent suit filed by Apple against Samsung has forced the company to withdraw sale of its Android-powered Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Europe, for instance.

Defensive patents may not be the only motivation either. Motorola's patents extend to other areas where Google may hope to expand, reckons Dillon. "Looking outside the smartphone market, Motorola have got some patents and technologies in other areas such as home devices - and that could well be an area as Google looks to diversify its business and extend its reach into other areas which aren't traditionally internet-connected."

From homemade Googlephones to a successful Google TV? Hello Moto...

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