The software/hardware relationship in Google’s Android ecosystem has been clear from the very beginning – Android is an open-source OS, Google makes it readily available to license to multiple OEMs, and those OEMs have the room to make whatever modifications they’d like within Google’s licensing agreement. Manufacturers enjoy a fair level of equality in this system, though Google has made some slight variations over the years to accommodate both their Nexus program and lead device strategy.
In a move that seems to disrupt that harmony, Google has announced their purchase of Motorola Mobility for a sweet $12.5 billion. If you’re not familiar with this arm of the company, Mobility is a recently created division of Motorola that handles mobile devices exclusively through their production of Android OS smartphones and tablets. With this purchase, Google joins the ranks of Apple and Microsoft in having a first-party OEM to produce devices supporting their software exclusively. It should be said that Motorola Mobility was already dedicated to a very similar plan sans the first-party status, considering the fact that they turned down development of Windows Phone 7 devices unlike their primary competitors HTC and Samsung.
It’s difficult not to wonder how this will affect the aforementioned evenhanded strategy Google has employed with manufacturing partners over the years. Google’s Senior Vice President of Mobile Andy Rubin (and one of the key minds behind the creation of Android OS) quickly moved to squash these thoughts, reassuring both the public and its partners that Motorola will function as a separate business unit from the Android software team. He went on to stress that Moto will be given no preferential treatment in the choice of lead device partners, instead being part of the same bidding process as HTC, Samsung, LG, and others to procure choice status every cycle.
The real nugget that Google was hoping to get in this transaction is Motorola’s patent portfolio. Not only does Motorola have several patents on smartphone ideas, but they have feet in the doors of networking and other similar technologies that may give them a foothold in legislation through cross-licensing. Nilay Patel of This is my next continues to do a great job explaining the patent situation and showing some major cases where Moto’s patent portfolio may play a part in possible Google legal victories. Clearly the other Android partners agree that more Google patents mean a more protected platform and investment, as their respective CEOs harmoniously made their individual statements:
Peter Chou, CEO, HTC:
We welcome the news of today’s acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem.
Bert Nordberg, President & CEO, Sony Ericsson:
I welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.
Jong-Seok Park, President & CEO, LG:
We welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.
J.K. Shin, President, Samsung, Mobile Communications Division:
We welcome today’s news, which demonstrates Google’s deep commitment to defending Android, its partners, and the ecosystem.
This deal will undoubtedly impact the future of all companies involved, which couldn’t be better expressed than in the words of Google’s CEO Larry Page:
There’s tremendous opportunity [at Motorola] — Android is growing like crazy, and this will benefit all our partners, including Motorola. It really allows us to supercharge the entire ecosystem. They made a great bet on Android, and that made them the leading smartphone maker. Furthermore, I’d say that they’re a leading home devices maker, and that’s a big opportunity.
If that’s not a big promise for future development, we don’t know what is.