Google has announced their acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a major manufacturer of cellphones and Android smartphones, for $12 Billion. The deal is a major game changing event in the mobile landscape as Google, maker of the Android Mobile OS, has now acquired a hardware division. With this, Google has mobilized a new army in the smartphone wars.
Motorola Mobility was a company that emerged from the splitting of the original Motorola. Once mighty presence in virtually every sector of the tech industry, the company fell on hard time in the latter part of the last decade. The company split into Motorola Mobility, in charge of the handset business, and Motorola Solutions, in charge of the company’s IT, Telecommunications, and heavy industry business. Since then, Moto Mobility has had a major resurgence as a premiere Android handset maker – the company was responsible for launching Verizon’s Droid line of premium smartphones back in 2009. Motorola’s Android history is not all roses, but it has had far more wins than many other OEMs with great handsets like the Atrix, Photon, Droid and Droid X smartphones.
Now here we are, with Android’s own mother swallowing up one of the platform’s most stalwart contributors. It’s a ballsy move for a company that has so far refuted claims of opening a hardware division. Google claimed they wanted to be gatekeepers to Android, only worrying about licensing to other manufacturers. With the exception of the Nexus One and Nexus S, the company has lived a perfectly comfortable life with others worrying about the hardware side of the Android platform.
So why now has Google absorbed one of the largest cellphone makers in the world? Many believe it has to do with patents. Google, Microsoft and Apple have been on patent buying binges over the past year, trying to secure any and all innovations in the ever more competitive mobile market. Apple and Microsoft led a power play initiative to block Google from the purchase of several patents from Nortell, a Canadian telecommunications company that went under in 2008. The move places Google behind its competitors in terms of IP stockpiles. Meanwhile, Motorola has decades of innovation under its legal belt in the areas of mobile phone technology. This move gives Google access to a large backlog of patents.
But this seems like too huge a purchase to be simply for patents. If Google wanted Moto’s IP, the company could have worked out a far more affordable licensing agreement. While Larry Page maintains that Motorola will still be operated as an independent company and not the hardware arm of Android, I believe that’s nothing more than fluff. Google has seen the success in Apple’s draconian control over hardware. Apple shapes the hardware to perfectly marry software in a way Google can only dream of. Throughout the history of Android, every OEM has skinned, modded and hobbled their Android offerings into an inconsistent platform. Wildly different features, platform fragmentation, and poor customizations have all lead to an Android that can’t be as Google envisioned the OS. Licensing deals were good for the platform’s infancy but Google doesn’t want to be reliant on the endeavors of third parties anymore. Google wants to run the show.
The Nexus One and Nexus S established the defacto design of Android 2.0 and 2.3. Google likes being in charge of hardware design, even if they won’t admit it. Now, with Motorola, Google has an entire company that it can point in the right direction. Ensuring you get Vanilla android, and hardware that perfectly matches the software. Sure, Google will play nice with HTC, Samsung and LG – Google still needs them to control the market – but from now on, Google will run the show. They have an entire hardware team at their disposal now with an legendary brand name. Sure, the name Motorola will endure, but beneath the branding this will be all Google from now on.
In the end, this could be good. Android devices may now get that Apple-like polish they deserve from Google’s devices while offering choice from other OEMs. Is it the best of both worlds? Maybe. OEMs might revolt, Apple might go on the offensive again, and the Nokia-Microsoft partnership might whip up something really jaw dropping. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.