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.