So what are the consequences of this move? Google has been touting its Android operating system as open and open sourced and it was very successful in attracting many different hardware manufacturers including Samsung, HTC, LG, Dell, and, of course, Motorola. By buying Motorola, Google will need to convince the other vendors to stay with the Android OS which may be tricky now that Google is a direct competitor. Sure, Google sold its own smartphone in the past - the Nexus - but that was just a tactical maneuver to get Samsung and co. motivated and the phone was discontinued soon after they started shipping. Now with Motorola, Google is firmly in the competing corner.
None of the vendors licensing Android have been using Android exclusively and they all have other options. To stay with Android, Google will have to convince them that there is a solid Chinese wall between Motorola and Android to avoid any channel conflict. Google doesn’t have any credentials in that. Google will have plenty of struggle to combine its highly profitable advertising business with the low margin, highly competitive hardware business from Motorola and Motorola isn’t a small bite to swallow. Controlling both the software and hardware could give Google a leg up over the immensely profitable Apple franchise which in a way validates Apple’s closed and vertically integrated strategy.
The Motorola acquisition may motivate other Android phone makers to look for alternatives and the most obvious one is Microsoft. Many of these vendors are already shipping a Windows Phone based product and the Google acquisition of Motorola is likely going to send a strong breeze into Microsoft’s sails. It could possibly also give RIM a little bit of a reprieve, even though RIM is not ready to license out its own mobile operating systems (yes, they have two - the BlackBerry OS and the QNX). Similarly, Apple will not likely license its iOS to other vendors but should enjoy a boost in marketshare while the Motorola deal is being sorted out.
Some pundits call for Microsoft to acquire RIM and/or Nokia in response to Google’s move. I suggested the Microsoft-RIM marriage a long time ago but since the Nokia deal, that acquisition is less likely. In fact, Microsoft is standing strong right now as a dependable operating system vendor from whom all the device manufacturers can safely license the mobile OS. All of a sudden, that sounds much more attractive than licensing from the hard-to-predict Google. I think that the status quo is working really well for Microsoft. And even Nokia, having bet the house on Windows Phone must be breathing a sigh of relief.
To sum it up, the Motorola acquisition is a very risky and pricey move for Google who’s finding itself on an unfamiliar ground with hardware and who’ll have a lot to prove to keep Android open. I also believe that this deal has opened the door for Microsoft who’s suddenly looking like a safe bet when it gets to licensing a decent mobile operating system. It will be fun to watch how this is going to play out.