Has Google misfired by buying Motorola Mobility?

Google stunned the market by announcing it was buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. But what is it up to, and should it be up to it? Simon Brew takes a look…

Rock the boat

So why, many are asking, would Google risk rocking its own boat? For what it's done here is put down a sizeable amount of money on a bet it might not have needed to make. It comes across as an insurance policy, one that insulates Google against a new pretender to the throne, or Windows 7 Phone finding its commercial feet. By owning a hardware manufacturer, there will always be a route to market for Android devices. Google has just made certain of that.

Just what is Google gaining here, that it hasn't already got?

But what else has it done? For the risk here isn't necessarily in losing $12.5 billion on the wrong acquisition - although that's clearly enough in its own right to cause a couple of board meetings. Rather, that Google risks alienating the hardware partners that have lifted it to the position its in.

Put yourself into the shoes of HTC, LG, or Samsung. Each has made strides that have really helped push Android forward. Samsung is making the operating system a cornerstone of its tablet push, with its Galaxy tablet products.

But what now? Will it be looking at a future where Motorola Mobility gets first access to everything? Where, effectively, one of its competitors has a head start, by very nature of being part of the same company? Where's the incentive to keep working with Android?

And if not, just what is Google gaining here, that it hasn't already got? Appreciating the earlier point about spending on a bit of insurance, Microsoft never pushed to own branded desktop and laptop PCs in the 80s and 90s, and this perceived independence from hardware surely did little harm in helping Windows become such a dominant force in the market. Was Android poised to follow a similar path, and has Google just put a massive spanner in its proverbial works?

Bullish

Certainly, the company itself is bullish. It's also sought to reassure its collection of hardware partners that sudden change isn't on the agenda. Larry Page wrote, on the Google blog, that "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. 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."

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