How Realistic Are Google's Disclaimers on Motorola Mobility?

Carl Weinschenk

In the long run, Google will have a hard time assuring the hardware community that uses its Android operating system that its purchase of Motorola Mobility, which was announced in August, won't upset the competitive apple cart.


On the face of it, the situation is sticky. At the time of the sale, and again this week at AsiaD in Hong Kong, the company took the position that Motorola won't have an advantage. This week, Google Senior Vice President of Mobile Andy Rubin said that Motorola will be kept "at arm's length" from Android and that other companies shouldn't worry about the deal, which was driven by Google's desire to get Motorola's numerous patents. Said Rubin:

I don't think you should consider Google's acquisition of Motorola as Google entering the hardware business. This is going to be an arm's-length thing Motorola isn't going to get any special treatment.

Google almost certainly is saying this, again and again, to vendor after vendor behind closed doors. It's a difficult sell. The bottom line is that businesses' first responsibility is to do what is best for its owners. At some point there will be great temptation to allow its hardware unit to jump the line in overt or subtle ways. The rationale for doing so, in some future situation, simply may be judged to be stronger than protecting the sensitive feelings of its vendor partners.


The bottom line is that saying, in essence, that vendors shouldn't pay attention to a competitive division of what may be their most important supplier isn't realistic. Categorical promises aren't possible, especially when the correct business decision may be to take a step that contradicts that promise.


In any case, there certainly isn't anything wrong with Google favoring a handset unit for which it paid good money. But it isn't a good position to take publicly. Business Insider's Jay Yarow commented on Rubin's statement, which was made during a Q&A session with Walt Mossberg:


That's a nice idea in theory. And it's certainly something he has to say right now, as the deal is scrutinized by regulators and Android partners.


But, we're not buying it. Motorola has been poorly run. That's why Google was able to buy it.

Google's handset partners can respond by forging a closer alliance with Microsoft and its Windows Phone. The reality is that nothing nefarious is going on. These types of mixed relationships - companies simultaneously cooperating and competing - are increasingly common. They can work. The thing that vendors shouldn't do - and almost certainly aren't - is take what Rubin says for granted.

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Oct 26, 2011 6:38 AM Jim Pomeroy Jim Pomeroy  says:

While it is possible for Google to keep Motorola as a separate entity; and be impartial when it comes to upgrades of the Android OS. In all reality a company is going to eventually take care of its own before others.

Apple learned this a long time ago that its destiny was to be a technology company. Not a software company, not a hardware vendor but a creator or devices and elegant design. This is why Apple never licensed its software to other companies for installation on 3rd party hardware platforms.

Google could do the same with its Android based devices (Motorola) and its Android software. Instead of becoming a software vendor whose devices are becoming commoditized (Android devices are now almost given away); Google could transform its mobile business to mirror that of Apple. The company would be wise to design good products through Motorola for its OS and cut ties with its partners. If Google does not take this course, it is looking at a downgrade of the company's brand.

This may sound strange but look at the Android market now. The tablets are not faring well in the market place, and the phones are going for $50 a unit through many of the myriad of manufacturers and carriers. With the Kindle Fire set to take the low cost tablet market and Apple staking claim to the high end tablet market Android will not be able to compete. The only way for Android to stay relevant is to take Apple on using Apple's own strategy; and make high end high quality devices in both the tablet and mobile phone spaces.

Oct 27, 2011 6:37 AM Jim Pomeroy Jim Pomeroy  says: in response to Carl Weinschenk

I would have to agree to disagree with you on this. There are people I work with and know that are just as passionate about their Android devices as Apple people are about Apple's products.

The issue is that Android is just too watered down. If Google could get rid of its partners in creating mobile devices and tablets and focus on creating its own line only through the Motorola acquisition, it may be able to pull off that Apple like magic.

Could you not see Google's founders rolling out new devices to Android crazed crowds like Jobs did with Apple? Maybe.. then again maybe your right. Only time will tell.

Oct 27, 2011 7:00 AM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Jim Pomeroy

I think you probably are closer to the situation on the ground than I am. My point is that timing is everything. Henry Ford would always have been a genius, but he happened to come along at a time that his genius could flower more fully and dramatically than if he came along after the quantum leap -- the assembly line -- was established by someone else. Same as Rockefeller, Edison (I favor Tesla) or even in another realm, Einstein. (There were other real big brains in that era, such as Bohr, but Einstein came right at the point that relativity was on the point of being thought through--there were others racing towards it.)

Oct 27, 2011 8:51 AM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Jim Pomeroy

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The question to me is whether the Apple model really works beyond Apple. Is it a viable model for others, or a unique meeting of technical and marketing brains that occurred precisely at the perfect moment? I tend to think that Apple is unique or nearly unique.


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