Outlook: 17,000 reasons to buy a mobile phone maker

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Google is not shelling out more than $12bn for Motorola because it wants to get its hands on its phones – at least, that's not its prime motivation. What looks like an aggressive first big move into hardware is actually a defensive strategy by Google aimed chiefly at protecting its Android mobile phone operating software.

It is less than a month since Microsoft and Apple, which each have their own rivals to Android, teamed up to pay $4.5bn for 6,000 patents protecting various mobile phone-related technologies. For $12.5bn, Google is getting its hands on 17,000 patents of its own.

That's vital, because Google thinks Microsoft and Apple see patents as the way to stop Android dominating the market. It fears intellectual property litigation will push up the cost of handsets using Android, prompting manufacturers to turn to its rivals. But with those 17,000 patents in its pocket, it will have a much better chance of beating such litigation.

There is a risk to the defence: if handset makers such as HTC, Samsung and others that currently use Android think Motorola is going to have first bite of the cherry on each and every improvement to the software, they might be tempted to go elsewhere. But this is why Google is at pains to insist that Motorola won't get any special favours and that Android will remain open-source and free. If it keeps its word, the handset maker should remain on side.

Not Nokia though, which has thrown its lot in with Microsoft, abandoning its own Symbian operating system after getting trounced by Android. And herein lies another reason for Google's purchase of Motor- ola. While the Nokia-Microsoft alliance has yet to get going, Google sees it as at least a potential threat. Buying Motorola ramps up the pressure on Microsoft to buy its own handset maker – probably Nokia, in which case the deal would be a huge distraction, or maybe even Research in Motion, which would be even more disruptive. Either way, Android enjoys a breather.

Why else does Google want Motorola? Well, don't discount television, where Google's efforts have never really passed muster. Aside from the phones, Motorola has a market-leading set-top box business, important in its own right but also for the close working relationships it brings with US cable operators. This unit gives Google a real chance of finally breaking into television.

Then, finally, there's Motorola's mobile (and tablet computer) hardware. Acquiring the hardware may come low on the list of Google's priorities, but it doesn't come without benefits. Google can hardly have failed to notice how Apple's vice-like control of its hardware and software in this market has been so lucrative.

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