Android's Mission: Protect and Defend

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The best thing a blogger can do when a big deal hits - right when it hits, not a while later when its success or failure is apparent - is do an informal survey of what the smart folks think. Then, perhaps throw in a bit of context and an opinion.

Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion clearly is a big deal and, luckily, there are a lot of smart folks following mobility. The obvious take that hit simultaneously with the deal's announcement was that this was a major strike against Apple. Almost as quickly, thoughts turned to other Android players on the Google team. Writes Scott Martin at USA Today:

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The marriage of Google's Android operating system with Motorola's devices more closely matches Apple's strategy of creating devices and software under one roof but raises questions for Google handset partners Samsung, HTC, LG and others who license its software. The deal also underscores the growing ubiquity of mobile devices among consumers and the increasing importance in Google's strategy as it moves beyond its search engine roots.

The point was amplified at Computerworld. Nancy Gohring pointed out that Android partners at various points have gotten releases earlier than others, in exchange for special favors. Those days likely are over now, she surmised. After all, Google has its own hardware mouth to feed, so to speak:

Samsung and HTC, two of the largest Android users, are unlikely to be pleased by the news of the acquisition. "We expect that this acquisition is not being met with much joy in Korea or Taiwan. If Android is going to continue its growth as an OS then the continued heavy focus by HTC and Samsung appears to us as a necessity. We expect that focus is now at some risk," Jamie Townsend, an analyst with Town Hall Investment Research, wrote in a report Monday.

The awkwardness of the arrangement, assuming the deal closes, was nowhere more apparent than in the weirdly consistent comments Google posted from partners LG, HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung lauding the deal. Each comment congratulated Google for doing the somewhat fuzzy thing of "defending Android" as if somebody had said something nasty at a cocktail party.

Peter Kafka, writing at All Things D, seems a bit more open to the notion that Google may, indeed, not play favorites between Motorola and the other handset makers. He also noted a second, and perhaps related, unique use of language:

... [T]he real value would seem to be Motorola's patent stash, which Google thinks will be a valuable weapon in the high-stakes arms race that has recently started up. Which is why Google executives used the word "protect" at least six times while explaining the deal this morning.

Protect and defend. Sounds more like the tag line of a police department than the rationale for a big telecom deal. In any case, the facts may just be that Google realizes two things:

  • The current scenario, in which Google doesn't have a phone of its own and relies on selling arms to a variety of competitors, will eventually run its course. The idea may be that becoming a phone maker will lessen the threat from OS fragmentation - it now can completely control one strain of its own products. In other words, it may perceive its phone strategy as ready to grow up.

  • Google may be betting that HTC, LT and the others simply have come too far down the Android road and are pretty much locked in.

The deal should close and, once it does, may prove that Google was a shrewd player. It is unlikely, however, that what will happen next will be as interesting as what has come to pass in the first four years of Android's existence.