Blog Post

Google’s Motorola buy won’t give it what Apple has

Google (s goog) wants to “supercharge” Android with its planned acquisition of Motorola Mobility (s mmi), but what exactly does that mean? Some think we’ll see Google try to provide a hardware/software platform combo to rival Apple (s aapl), but there are a few big reasons why that probably won’t happen anytime soon.

1. Buying isn’t bonding

If you’re a big company like Google and you want to expand your reach, generally speaking you turn to acquisition to get the requisite skills and intellectual property. Apple does this, too. But improving a sub-feature of your mobile OS is a world apart from taking the two biggest parts of the smartphone equation (hardware and software) and mashing them together.

Apple has been doing both sides of the software/hardware coin for as long as it’s been making devices. The iPhone and iOS were born and grew up together. Apple doesn’t make a move on one without knowing how the other will be affected. Android is fully formed; it ships on devices as a consumer-ready product. Google can’t start from the ground up to create a device and software that are literally made for each other unless it wants to ditch Android entirely and go with something new to replace it.

2. Android will remain “open”

Android, unlike iOS, is designed to be device agnostic. Device-makers can customize it to some extent (by throwing custom software like Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense interface on top of it, for instance), but ultimately, these efforts all have to make compromises, which is why it takes so much more processor power to achieve an experience as smooth as you’d find on iOS. In order to make sure that Android continues to work well on other manufacturers’ hardware, Google will have to make compromises too, something former Engadget editor Nilay Patel hinted at on Twitter upon hearing the news.

Google has to make sure that it keeps Samsung, HTC and others happy, and that means not introducing device-specific features that give its own handsets an edge over the competition. Otherwise, the Android-maker runs the risk of sending its greatest asset (a healthy network of hardware partners) running into the arms of a rival like Microsoft (s msft). Having to consider the concerns of outside interests means that Android won’t likely be able to achieve the same level of symbiotic integration Apple’s iPhone/iOS combo enjoys.

3. It hasn’t worked for others

Maybe the biggest reason not to expect Google to be able to mimic Apple’s success with a unified platform is that others who’ve tried to approach the idea in a similar way haven’t be able to either. I’m thinking mainly of Hewlett-Packard (s hpq), which purchased Palm and webOS to boost its mobile business a little over a year ago. Considering webOS had a tiny two percent U.S. smartphone market share according to Nielsen in a recent count, that’s not working out too well.

It’s also worth noting that the two smartphone companies who have had success with a unified platform approach are actually seeing their stars fall recently. I’m talking about Research In Motion (s rimm) and Nokia(s nok), which are both suffering big losses in market share on a global scale. Nokia’s attempts to curtail its losses actually include abandoning the unified approach with the Microsoft deal it announced earlier this year, and RIM is poking around in Android’s backyard to make up for its own deficiencies. Android, on the other hand, has seen exponential growth based on a strategy that, to date, hasn’t at all involved making its own hardware.

Money can’t buy platform happiness

Building a unified mobile platform that benefits from a tight reciprocal relationship between hardware and software isn’t something Google can buy. It’s still possible that it can make this work with time, since it has done fairly impressive things with even just with close hardware/software partnerships like the HTC Nexus One and the Samsung Nexus S, but matching Apple’s model isn’t a realistic near-term goal. I don’t think that’s necessarily Google’s end-game with this play anyway, since Motorola’s patent library seems a much more practical incentive. But if you’re expecting a Googlephone that somehow delivers a “perfect” Android experience, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

13 Responses to “Google’s Motorola buy won’t give it what Apple has”

  1. Subhasish Ghosh

    Completely agree with the points mentioned therein. purchasing a new company or acquisition of a new product line necessarily doesn’t mean – making progress. Tactially & strategically. apple is not only extremely well placed strategically with a seamless integration and experience that it provides to its customers with iphone/ipad2/iOS and so on; not sure google has that strategic insight and depth as well. not sure how google+ would pan out, but hope they dont flop like buzz and wave. :)


  2. Device agnosticism is a big reason why Android has beaten the iPhone, as many, many more people are choosing Android over iPhone. There’s just more choices with Android. Apple doing both sides of the software/hardware coin was a reason it lost in computers to Windows and it’s now also a big reason why it lost to Android. Unlike the Apple experience which is dictated by Steve Jobs, there’s just more choices with Android. The “perfect” Android experience is up to the individual consumer, and the consumer has many, many choices with Android. Apple’s mobile devices might still be around in the future, catering to a niche market of Apple fanbois. Macs are still around today, used by the few Apple fanbois.

  3. As others have already said, correctly, this acquisition was all about the patents and IP of Motorola and pretty much zero to do with its hardware or physical assets. For that reason, I fear for the future of Motorola employees, who may very soon be out of a job, when Google realise just what they’ve got themselves in to and scramble to clean it up.

  4. TamilProdigy

    Darrell, if I didn’t know better, I would mistake you for an iPhone lover. As WillKill07 pointed out, it’s all about the IP. Other than touch and some ridiculous icon specific patents (I can’t believe Apple was awarded these to begin with!), IP for anything that is fundamental for a wireless device is owned by Motorola and now with this purchase, Google gets access to that patent portfolio, which means leverage for anyone building on Android going forward (no more bullying of HTC or Samsung by Apple).

    • Actually, Motorola doesn’t have any valuable patents that are going to help Google. This article may be more right than you think. Google is going all wrong.

    • Aviral Mittal

      Icon specific patents you say? I think you lack imagination to say this. Microsoft’s mobile OS looks pretty different. Android looks like a cheap copy and Apple has every right to protect their IP for which they spent years making and testing it.

    • Let’s not overstate the value of Moto’s patent portofolio. It hasn’t discouraged both Apple and Microsoft from filing lawsuits against moto and hasn’t been able to effectively defend themselves using their so called “deep” portfolio.

      Kind of calls into question the quality of that portfolio.

  5. WillKill07

    I think you are viewing this purchase from the wrong view. This purchase was all about patents and protection, not total and complete control of a product.