Google's shock purchase of Motorola Mobility has shaken up the mobile phone marketplace. But, like Microsoft's deal with Nokia a few months earlier, it's not clear what all parties are getting out of it.
Here's a short list of what Google will get with its acquisition, good and bad, alongside a small city of engineers and the name that invented the mobile phone in the first place.
First and most obviously, Google gets a tier-one handset business. Motorola has had a dynamic relationship with the mobile phone market — it started it, it ruled the roost in analogue, lost the plot in digital, had a revival in Razr that nearly killed it, and most recently has started rebuilding its credibility with Android-based devices like the Droid/Milestone. Why does Google want a handset business — especially one that's got a loyalty card for the Last Chance Saloon? It probably doesn't: see later for why Google really tied the knot. But it's got one, which will lead inevitably to:
Business culture shock
Google is like no other company on earth. However, Motorola is like other companies: it is split into multiple rival divisions around the world who fight turf wars over diminishing resources. That's behind its bad reputation for user interface design, incoherent operating system strategy, and "why did they make THAT?" products. (See also: Nokia, Sony Ericsson.) Sorting that lot out was beyond Motorola – it tried – and, short of a palace coup followed by genocidal bloodletting, it's probably not fixable.
Google has done the palace coup in Visigoth style. Whether it has the stomach for stage two — or the brilliance to achieve it without imperial shock troops laying waste to the lives of thousands of Moto employees — we'll see.
You know that Android is an open mobile phone operating system available to all. You'll also know that while Google has dallied with own-brand mobile phones, they've been made by a variety of companies and served more as proof of concept than a serious attempt to win market share. That's one reason why other mobile phone companies have been keen to adopt Android: it gives them a lot of impact without aiding their enemies.
Motorola changes that – but not as much as some may think. While it's true that other phone companies may suspect that Moto's getting the best of Android, it's neither necessary nor in Google's interests to push that too hard. Google will get some advantages by being able to influence the inclusion of hardware that fits Android's battle plan, but there'll be nothing to stop other manufacturers from following suit if those moves are successful. And, to be honest, there's nowhere else to go: Microsoft-Nokia is far less tempting and Apple won't play. If it's good for Android, it's good for lots of people — which is why HTC, LG and Sony Ericsson are publicly backing the deal.
And here's the reason. For its $12.5bn (£7.6bn), Google is getting around 17,000 highly appropriate patents. That's a bit more per patent than the amount it was going to pay for the 7,000-strong Nortel patent bundle, but they'll be worth far more.
Motorola, as noted, has been doing this game forever. It's one of the big guys who has developed mobile phones from scratch, and thus owns a huge chunk of mobile phone intellectual property — and not the balderdash, trollish sort either. Motorola is in all the patent pools that matter, in a way that — to pick a name out of the hat — Apple is not.
A big stick
And that's what Google's bought: an entire nuclear arsenal to defend Android. As with any nuclear option, it comes with a lot of headaches, expense and potential to backfire. It redraws the landscape. Expect a short silence while those most aggressively attacking Android reconsider their options. What happens next is either detente or missiles in Cuba.
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