Google dropped a bomb this morning by announcing that it will acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in cash. Motorola Mobility, which became independent from Motorola earlier this year, currently builds Android phones such as the Droid 3 and Android tablets such as the Motorola Xoom.
Android will remain open to other handset makers, Google CEO Larry Page said, and Motorola Mobility will operate as a separate company. But there are a few obvious reasons why Google would want to own the hardware maker — some stated clearly by Google, and some with a bit more subtlety:
The patent wars
Although Android has been successful, phone and tablet makers who use Google’s operating system risk are getting pounded by Apple and Microsoft on patent infringement grounds. Apple has successfully seen Samsung’s Galaxy Tab blocked in Australia and Europe, and in the United States has won a patent infringement case against Android handset maker HTC. Microsoft, meanwhile, squeezes patent licensing fees out of five Android handset makers. Both companies were recently involved in a group purchase of more than 6,000 patents from Nortel, putting Google at an even bigger disadvantage.
“We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android,” Page said. “Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”
In other words, Google now has ammo to fight back.
More pure Android?
Android phone makers, including Motorola, like to tweak the vanilla Android interface as a way to make their own handsets stand out. Although some of these changes are welcome, they can also make Android seem sluggish and slow down the delivery of software updates. With a phone maker under its control, we may see Google introduce more pure Android phones like the Nexus One and Nexus S. Will anyone really shed a tear if Motoblur goes away?
A boost for Google TV
Motorola Mobility isn’t just a phone and tablet maker. It also builds television set-top boxes, like the kind you rent from the cable company. In a blog post about the acquisition, Larry Page hints that we could see Google TV creep into these devices: “With the transition to Internet Protocol, we are excited to work together with Motorola and the industry to support our partners and cooperate with them to accelerate innovation in this space,” he wrote. It’s not hard to imagine Motorola producing Google TV devices for sale directly to consumers as well — assuming Google can save the project from doom.