Sibling rivalry: Will Google’s Motorola buy turn other Android makers green?


Google rocked the mobile industry Monday with its surprise plan to purchase Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. According to Google CEO Larry Page, the move is intended to “supercharge” Android, as well as “protect” the highly popular mobile operating system against the likes of Microsoft, Apple, and others, who “are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android.”

In Google’s view, the heaviest assault on Android came on July 1, when a consortium of companies, including Apple, Research In Motion, Sony and Microsoft purchased more than 6,000 patents from Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel for $4.5 billion dollars, beating out Google’s $900 million bid.

Some believe, however, that Google had no intention of winning the Nortel auction, and was actually banking on scoring a deal with Motorola — a deal that has now put more than 17,000 patents, three times the Nortel portfolio, and 7,500 pending patents, in Google’s pocket.

Reinforcements have arrived

So, now that Google’s on the offensive in the patent war — and jumped head-first into the business of building cell phones — what’s in store for Android as a platform, and the Android ecosystem as a whole?

“Google has introduced a new dynamic into the ecosystem,” says Kevin Restivo, senior analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. And this game-changing move has “immediately fortified [Google] in the case, in the court, to keep Android as-is.”

Google will be able to use its soon-to-be-acquired cache of patents to fight back the litigious vultures at Microsoft and Apple, and keep Android alive and well.

Playing favorites

The big unknown now, says Restivo, is how Google’s hardware partners — companies like Samsung, HTC, LG and others — will react, especially in the long-term, to Google putting itself in direct competition with them.

“Until now, all Google’s hardware partners have been more or less equal,” says Restivo. But Google “hasn’t owned a hardware maker before,” either. In buying Motorola Mobility, Google has forced “an entirely new relationship” on its hardware partners, and they will “want assurances that it’s business as usual.”

Of course, Google has been working frantically since announcing the deal Monday morning to keep talk of partner volatility to a minimum.

“This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform. Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open,” writes Google’s chief executive. “We will run Motorola as a separate business. Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success, and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them to deliver outstanding user experiences.”

Other manufacturers react

To quell the impression of unrest, Google even created a website today called “Quotes from Android partners — Facts about Google’s acquisition of Motorola.” As of this writing, the only thing on the page contains is eerily similar quotes from various partners about how wholeheartedly they “welcome” the deal.

“We welcome today’s news, which demonstrates Google’s deep commitment to defending Android, its partners, and the ecosystem.” writes J .K. Shin, the president of Samsung’s mobile communications division.

“I welcome Google‘s commitment to defending Android and its partners,” echoed Bert Nordberg president and CEO of Sony Ericsson.

You can almost hear teeth grinding behind their smiles.

The page goes on and on, with each subsequent sound bite further enforcing that things couldn’t be better between Google and its Android hardware partners. For now, that may very well be the case, at least in a functional sense. In order for Google to maintain the status quo, however, it’s “going to have show its partners that it loves them all equally,” says Restivo.

No turning back now

Due to this need to keep partners happy, “I don’t think you’re going to see an Apple-like model [from Google],” says Restivo. “Google will not introduce flagship phones itself, based on Motorola’s hardware.”

“I don’t think you’ll see hardware partners turn on Google or Android,” says Restivo, for the time being. “There won’t be immediate hostility. However, those partners will have to hedge their OS bets, and have a broader array of OSs in their portfolios [down the road.]”

Because of this inevitable need to diversify, we could possibly see Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility indirectly boosting other mobile operating systems.

“If you’re Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, you’re probably going to look harder at where you’re long-term bets are placed,” says Restivo. And because of this, we may see “more WP7 phones shipped” simply because handset makers will be forced to rely less upon Android as a platform.

Still, “it’s hard to say if other OSs will get a boost,” Restivo adds. “Samsung, HTC, LG – all these hardware providers have based their business on Android. Regardless of how much they like, or don’t like, the Motorola Mobility buy, it’s impossible for them to completely turn their backs on Google. They are very much dependent on Android and, therefore, Google.”

Former competitors hand in hand

While the acquisition of Motorola certainly appears to have put Google’s hardware partners in a tough spot, Restivo says Google’s purchase will help the company improve Android to offer a more streamlined, concrete product for consumers.

Until this point, Android developers have had the challenging task of creating apps for a plethora of different handsets that are all just different enough to make Android a messy affair for users.

“One of the biggest problems Google has had is fragmentation, its inability to have the same experience replicated over all Android devices,” says Restivo. “Having Motorola gives it more flexibility to experiment.”

Restivo adds: “Google knows much of its future depends on mobile. It’s going to want to rectify the consumer experience problems. And Motorola Mobility potentially allows it to so.”

Uncertainty ahead

While adding Motorola to its ranks certainly has its perks, Restivo warns that owning and operating a hardware manufacturer — something Google has never done before — has its own set of unique challenges.

“Hardware ownership is a completely different ballgame,” says Restivo. “Google has no experience managing supply chains,” for example. Because of this lack of know-how, “Google would be wise to learn much from incoming employees.”

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