The tech world was rocked today by Google’s announcement of its intention to acquire Motorola Mobility. Even mainstream media channels like CNN, MSNBC and CBS News covered the news. As a result we’re seeing a lot of speculation about what will now happen to Motorola and how the company fits into Google’s mobile strategy. Will the whole company be merged into Google? Will Google use Motorola to build official “Google phones?” And more importantly, will MOTOBLUR die a painful death? We’re going to try to answer some of these questions.
What will happen
Once the acquisition is approved (later this year or early 2012), there’s one thing we know will happen to Motorola for sure: the company will continue to function just as it does now. Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha and his team will continue to lead Motorola independently from Google. Larry Page emphasized this over and over in both the blog post and conference call. “We will run Motorola as a separate business,” said Larry Page. Both companies will even have separate finance reports.
In other words, you can expect to see more of the same coming from Motorola — at least for the time being. Sadly, this means MOTOBLUR and locked bootloaders aren’t dying anytime soon. That might change in the long-term, once Google has more control over the company. But for now they’re here to stay.
Likewise, we’ll still see Motorola release some very wacky and unorthodox Android devices for a while. Yes, that means more Motorola Flipouts and Charms. Again, it’s business as usual for Motorola. The only difference is that they now have a huge company with a lot of cash backing them up.
So why would Google spend $12.5 billion to keep Motorola as a separate company? Patents, that’s why. In fact, one could even say that’s the whole reason they bought Motorola. Motorola currently owns 17,000 patents and has 7,000 more pending. That’s a lot. Compare that to the 6,000 patents Google was fighting to get from Nortel, which ended up being sold for $4.5 billion. For just $8 billion more, Google managed to get four times as many patents and a huge company to go with it.
What does that mean for Motorola? It’ll now become the sword and shield of the Android ecosystem, used by Google to fend off any troll that wants to hurt Android.
What won’t happen
Contrary to what many people are saying (myself included), this acquisition doesn’t necessarily mean Motorola will be the preferred OEM for upcoming Nexus devices. Nor will the company start to build Android phones as official Google devices. The official Google phone will continue to be the Nexus, and every manufacturer will have a chance to make one.
Google’s VP of Mobile, Andy Rubin, talked specifically about this issue during the conference call.
We have this strategy where we have this Nexus program and lead device strategy. We select, around Christmas-time each year, a manufacturer to release a phone. That includes all the components to build a device. Teams from the Android team and the manufacturer huddle together in a building and create these. We don’t expect that to change. After the acquisition Motorola will be part of that bidding process and lead dev. process. Android remains open to other partners.Andy RubinVP of Mobile at Google
Google, it seems, won’t be giving Motorola any favorable treatment. The company will still have to fight other OEMs if it wants to be chosen as the manufacturer of a Nexus device. In my opinion, Google’s decision to keep Motorola as a completely separate entity is the right choice. If Motorola were to become Google’s hardware department, companies like Samsung, HTC and LG would quickly start to look for alternatives to Android. And you can be sure that Microsoft would gladly offer them one.
In summary, who will make the the Nexus 3, Nexus 4 or Nexus Prime is still up in the air.
What could happen
There are some added benefits to owning a huge manufacturing company, it turns out. Not only do you get one of the biggest patent portfolios in the mobile world, but you also get an army of hardware engineers and manufacturing plants ready to build whatever you ask of them. For Android enthusiasts, the name Motorola might mean Droid phones and MOTOBLUR, but the company has its hands in many more pies–including set-top boxes, modems, routers, home phones and even baby monitors.
Think about how many types of devices Motorola could build under Google’s management. Phones and tablets are, as we said, out of the question. But what about those sectors where Google is having a hard time finding OEMs to build them stuff? Chrome OS and Google TV quickly come to mind. Both platforms are having a hard time getting off the ground, and as result not many companies are supporting them.
With Google now the owner of Motorola, it’s just a matter of time before we see the first Motorola-branded Google TVs and Chromebooks. But those are just the obvious things. What about official Google devices like Project Tungsten? Will we ever see Google move beyond mobile devices and into home electronics like refrigerators, microwaves and audio systems? With Motorola now under Google’s wing, the sky is the limit for the “search company.”