Apple buying T-Mobile. Microsoft buying Adobe. We’re all used to reading stuff by tech pundits talking about seismic, world-changing acquisitions in a somewhat fanciful manner. But Google buying Motorola Mobility, the recently-spun-off part of Motorola that makes phones and other consumer hardware, is real–and the most potentially world-changing acquisition in many years. (Compared to this, HP buying Palm was positively humdrum.) If I’d been drinking anything when I read the headline this morning, I would have done a spit-take.
It’s not that it’s a completely unthinkable merger–in fact, it’s existed as a rumor for quite a while. It just seemed really unlikely, until it happened.
Mergers that are supposed to change everything have a lousy track record of changing everything–sometimes, they don’t change anything at all, at least for the better. (They also don’t have a perfect track record of actually happening: we should be careful about assuming this is a done deal until it is.) Right now, I’m still processing the news and asking myself questions.
Will Googlemoto make fantastic phones?
We all know the story: Apple benefits enormously from being one of the few tech companies which, in Steve Jobs’ words, makes the whole widget–the hardware, the software, the services. The smoothness of the iPhone experience compared to that of Android phones shows that it’s a good idea. Now Google will be trying a similar approach. Motorola already makes very good Android phones, but not ones which are radically better than those from other companies such as HTC and Samsung.
Will being owned by Google help Motorola make phones that more seamlessly blend hardware, software, and service than other Android handsets to date? I’m not sure. But I’ll bet that HTC and Samsung hope not! (Google’s stance seems to be that Motorola will be a self-contained unit, which might argue against deep integration–but it may be saying that for political reasons as much as anything else.)
Speaking of HTC and Samsung, how do other companies which make Android devices feel about this?
Can you imagine any scenario under which they’d greet it as wonderful news? They’ll now be competing against the company that makes their operating system. It’s as if Microsoft bought Dell. Even if Google bent over backwards to maintain a level playing field, you’d have to be the Pollyanna of all Pollyannas to think that the Android device company that was part of Google wouldn’t have a huge advantage. You can practically feel the clenching of teeth in the Android partners’ supportive quotes.
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