Google says buying Motorola won’t put it in the handset business


Speaking during an interview at All Things Digital’s AsiaD conference, Google’s Android chief Andy Rubin said that Google’s move to buy Motorola Mobility isn’t about Google getting into the mobile handset business: Google plans to let a Google-owned version of Motorola operate “at arm’s length.” Instead, Rubin positioned the acquisition as being all about patents, noting that Motorola’s mobile technology patent portfolio should help shore up the Android platform as it faces major challenges from the likes of Oracle and (indirectly, for now) Apple and Microsoft.

“I don’t think you should consider Google’s acquisition of Motorola as Google entering the hardware business,” Rubin said in the interview. “This is going to be an arm’s length thing [..] Motorola isn’t going to get any special treatment.”

Google’s pending $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility has sparked concern in the Android community, sparking speculation that a Motorola-owned Google will get first access to the Android development process, thereby getting an edge on other Android device makers. And, indeed, major Android handset makers are starting to hedge their bets, with Samsung investing more in its own Bada OS and both Samsung and HTC taking a look at Tizen, the latest incarnation of Intel’s Moblin and MeeGo technologies.

Industry watchers have also speculated that Google’s acquisition of Motorola would essentially mean Google would treat Motorola as its own handset division, enabling the company to create vertically-developed Android products in the same manner Apple creates both the hardware and operating system for its mobile devices. Again, such a scenario would leave third-party Android developers out in the cold.

Instead, Rubin insists the Motorola acquisition is mainly about patents and securing Android’s future as a free and open operating system—even though many in the industry question just how “free” and “open” Android actually is. Android is facing substantial patent challenges: Microsoft is convincing more and more Android device developers to pay royalties on Android products to shield themselves from possible future litigation, and Oracle already has Google in court over Android’s Java technology. Similarly, Apple’s patent battle with HTC is largely viewed as a proxy for Apple suing Google directly over Android—and, so far, it’s not going well for HTC.