Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is interesting but not surprising. Motorola’s arsenal of patents warranted the $12.5 billion price tag, and Google is following in the footsteps of iconic phone makers such as Apple and RIM that have both software and hardware integration. The acquisition completely makes sense for Google as they have complete control of the atoms and bits.
Google is walking a very fine line because on one hand, they’re getting their hands on all of the patents that Motorola has which will help to protect the Android platform and make sure it remains free by strengthening their IP portfolio. This is good for the platform itself and for all of the different handset manufacturers that are building on Android.
On the other hand, although Google has said that Motorola will operate independently, there is a risk that they will now be seen as competitive to their customers – the handset manufacturers – as they can now build and deliver the phones themselves rather than going through an OEM like they have done with the Nexus S.
The reason this is significant is because handset manufacturers all want to differentiate, they all want to have the best phones, and they all believe they have the capabilities to build the best phones. This case is only true as long as no competitor has an inherent advantage. For example, if one manufacturer had access to the platform earlier than another and had capabilities that were uniquely available to them, it would put that company at such a big advantage and would discourage other handset manufacturers from working with that platform.
Google is probably weighing this with the best intentions and will probably continue taking the right approach to preserve the playing field for Android. However, I can imagine that handset manufacturers feel very nervous about their potential move with Motorola.
As a result, there are several things that can happen. Handset manufacturers can start hedging their bets and investing more heavily on other platforms, particularly with Windows Phone 7. In the coming months, I predict that we are going to see more higher-end phones and more focus on this platform. This will help to prepare handset manufacturers for any potential risk to the Android platform.
I also predict that we will see more handset manufacturers and tech companies develop and push their own operating systems. We’ve already begun to see this from Samsung with bada, HP with webOS, and with reports that Baidu will work with Dell to bring its Yi OS to tablets and smartphones for the Chinese market.
This is an interesting trend given the rumors that Microsoft will follow Google and acquire a handset manufacturer. I don’t see any OEM that would want to find themselves between Apple, Google and Microsoft without a software arsenal in their pocket. To be competitive, handset manufacturers will need to have both the hardware and software – not just a layer of software on top of another company’s operating system.
One has to wonder how much space there is in the market for different operating systems? Every new OS that will come to market creates a huge challenge for attracting application developers – the driving force to the adoption of these platforms.
One of the immediate results to this acquisition news is that developers who were selling Windows Phone 7 short should reconsider.
Eric Setton is co-founder and CTO of Tango: http://www.tango.me/