Google Buys Motorola

Google Buys Motorola

Well, today’s headline knocked my socks off!   I previously noted that Google was poorly “patent positioned” in the mobile space and was going to be increasingly challenged by patent holders.  This would potentially have damaged the Android mobile phone sector.  Now, armed with Motorola’s 17,000+ patent portfolio, Google can definitely play the patent exchange game with much greater power.  Let me illustrate.  I recall when Apple came to Digital with a claim that Digital was infringing on Apple’s claim to have invented the mouse.  It was more specific than that, but never-mind.  Digital countered by offering Apple to trade for a patent that claimed that Digital invented Ethernet.  The specifics aren’t important, but the issue went away with the trade of equally obtuse patents.

OK, that’s goodness for Android, but the Motorola purchase changes the dynamics of mobile computing tremendously.  Now, Android is no longer an operating system from a company that is hardware neutral, as was Microsoft in the formative PC days.  Now, Android is the product of a hardware vendor of cell phones and tablets.  Companies like Samsung, Nokia, and HTC have to rethink their strategy.  What was formally a no-brainer to adopt Android, is now a question of whether to use technology from a competitor.  What if Google were to decide to keep some OS technology for itself, or if it were to decide to charge for Android?  It also isn’t clear that Google won’t prioritize the development of Android features to favor its own (formerly Motorola) products.  Should a cell phone or tablet company hedge its bets and also support one or even two other operating system competitors to Android?

The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) officially maintains Android, but I don’t understand how its costs are covered.  My assumption has always been that Google covers most of the cost and has most of the influence.  It is one thing when Google makes such immense profits that Google’s Android development costs are lost in the expense round-off errors, and another if it gets public scrutiny. Of course, phone and tablet vendors could decide to equally fund AOSP, much like the “Gang of Nine” PC clone makers decided to fund EISA after IBM bullied the PC market with their proprietary Microchannel bus.  It will be interesting to see how Google will address this problem.

Another possibility is to hedge bets with another operating system.  Some cell phone makers already support Microsoft, and HP has WebOS.  My guess is that Microsoft’s OS will benefit from Google’s little dilemma, but I can only speculate on WebOS, which gets some good reviews in spite of HP’s meager market share.

My advice to Google:  Call in all your Android AOSP partners and address this RIGHT NOW.  Openness is really important to instill confidence and to keep the Android market penetration climbing.

-gayn

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