Talk about a wake-up call. For those of us who were not in on the talks between Google and Motorola Mobility and didn’t see the train coming, the news was a little bit of a shocker. As commentaries started trickling in, I had to do a double take just to make sure I wasn’t getting played for an April Fool’s joke.
More than 24 hours later, the commentaries are no longer a trickle but a flood. Everyone and their brother are sharing their opinions, with many immediately speculating what it means for other OEMs in the Android community. Sure, they’re getting their patent protectors, but how’s the rest of the deal going to work?
Google executives assured everyone during a conference call that it would be business as usual for the Android OS community, with Andy Rubin saying executives at the top five Android licensees with whom he spoke the day prior showed enthusiastic support for the deal. When it comes to the phone most “Google-ish” of all, the Nexus line, Motorola will bid just like everyone else to build the next version.
Indeed, Android doesn’t make sense as a single OEM strategy. As Google said when announcing Android back in 2007, it’s an open platform and Google wants as many manufacturers as possible to be part of it.
But even as their public statements about the situation are positive, you have to wonder what OEMs that are not named Motorola are really thinking. Nokia looks smarter than ever for tying its future to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, although it’s still not clear that it’s going to happen fast enough and be a big enough draw over iOS. Nokia realized it was going to have a hard time differentiating enough from the other OEMs’ versions of Android devices to really make a difference.
Samsung has done a good job of establishing its leadership in Android, as has HTC. LG and Sony Ericsson are hanging in there. When Samsung first announced its home-grown bada OS, I was skeptical, but now it looks even more like it might be a “good to have” strategy. While it’s not an OS you hear about much in the U.S., it has made some inroads, garnering more global sales in the second quarter than Microsoft’s OS by a hair, according to Gartner figures released last week.
Google is assuring everyone that it’s not going to give preferential treatment to Motorola, but that also runs a little counter to logic. If you own something, you want to make sure it has the latest and greatest updates at the earliest possible time, and I guess you can leave the onus on the manufacturer by saying it’s their deal to be ready for the update. But that only goes so far. There has to be some degree of collaboration or else it makes no sense, and it’s clear Google will be influencing how Motorola makes phones. While it was evident from the get-go and all the public statements by Google that this is all about the patents, that idea also only goes so far. And it’s far from clear how much of an impact the patent ownership is going to make with lawsuits already filed and code embedded in phones. That genie is not going back in the bottle.
For Motorola, which for all intents and purposes gave life to the first cell phone, this marks another turn, arguably the biggest one, in its 80+-year history. Google’s just a babe in the woods compared to Motorola’s history in wireless. Of course, much has been written about Motorola’s trials and tribulations over the years since the third generation of the Galvin family, Christopher Galvin, was ousted in 2004. His grandfather, Paul Galvin, founded Motorola. No doubt, Chris Galvin has moved on; his bio at Harrison Street Capital barely mentions the company, but you have to wonder what he’d say about this present deal: Big Internet Giant with Lots of Cash Buys Motorola Handset Division. The ironies are all over the place.
The Galvins fought the good fight over the years before a series of outside CEOs took their turns. Now under Sanjay Jha, Motorola Mobility will get folded into the hands of the Internet giant, the company that seemingly rules the world, were it not for Apple ruling the other half. We’ll see how Motorola, as a unit owned by Google, fights the next big battle. It almost makes you want to ask for a drink at the Genius Bar.