The announcement overnight that Google would be acquiring Motorola Mobility for US$12.5bn - the largest acquisition that Google has made to date - is truly amazing news for a number of reasons.
Firstly, and more as an aside, this was a deal that was kept impressively secret. Only the brightest of the smartphone Star Chamber seem to have had any idea what was coming up, with the rest of the world caught flatfooted and goggling at the news. It's a bit like the Big G and Moto were nodding at each other politely in the hallway, with no one realising they were planning to duck into the upstairs bathroom together as soon as the office party got swinging.
Why it's clever
Secondly, this is a very clever acquisition for Google, for all the reasons you can imagine. Remember that this is Motorola – it gave us the first GSM phone and network back in ‘91 and in 2004, much to everyone’s delight, it popped out Razr phone – a handset that very definitely helped set the stage for the smartphones of today.
Yes, the company foundered a little in the middle, but with some clever reinventions it's bounced back - and much of its recent success has been with Android, such as the Milestone (Droid to the rest of the world) and the Atrix.
So while Nokia probably could have come cheaper, Google has bought itself a company that has a solid history (at least in name - Motorola Mobility as a separate entity is a mere fledgling still plummeting from the nest) and a familiarity with the product Google is pushing. More importantly, Motorola Mobility comes with a host of smartphone based patents, something that Google desperately needed. One must have been able to see the sparks fly when they locked eyes across the room. In fact, one might even wonder if spinning off Mobility back in January wasn't the equivalent of Motorola popping on its new shirt to give Google a glimpse of the muscles it's been working on so hard at the smartphone gym recently.
So what does all this mean for the entire smartphone landscape?
It's impossible to overestimate the importance of Google gaining this capacity for synergy across hardware and software. The biggest thing Android has suffered from has also been its greatest asset: its open source nature. This has seen the undoubtedly popular OS crop up on any number of substandard handsets and, more recently, tablets.
It's also contributed significantly to the version fragmentation that's plagued Android – and that fragmentation has been an issue for the average consumer too. While the more tech savvy may get some strange thrill from root kit updates and the like, most punters want something that just works. They don't want to worry about whether they're got Gingerbread or Honeycomb, or if their current handset has enough grunt for Ice Cream Sandwich (if they even know what that is) - they just want an iPhone. Apple has essentially become a success story by stealing the Fossil Fuels industry slogan from an ancient Simpsons episode: "stick with us and no one gets hurt".
With Motorola Mobility on board, Google has an unprecedented opportunity to match OS with hardware. A similar approach has worked for them in the past - the Nexus S and the Nexus One spring to mind - but this lets Google work across a full range of devices, including the (currently) all important tablet market. And a more suspicious mind might wonder if the close ties between Moto Mob and Motorola Solutions might not constitute a backdoor of sorts for Google to gain traction in the business space...
Who should be scared?
It's still very early to tell, although we imagine there were more than a few hastily called boardroom meetings across the offices of Nokia and Microsoft. MS has recently hoped that Nokia’s hardware expertise would give Windows Phone 7 the kick in the bum it so desperately required, but at this stage Redmond and the Finn are still fumbling at each other’s buttons in the coat room, to keep belabouring the strained metaphor. Right now, Nokia might be wondering if it headed off a little early - should it have stuck around to see who else was looking ready for a bit of fun?
Apple? Well, while this deal has to be seen in light of the fruit company's dominance of the mobile computing space, Cupertino aren't likely to be sweating bullets. Apple's seen this tango danced before - more than a few times - and it's even been asked to step out on the floor itself. And each time it's smiled politely, then headed home alone for a glass of red and some quiet time with the only person it could ever love - itself. (Although... there has been a few cracks in Apple's otherwise serene demeanour, but we'll get to around to that in a bit).
The people who might be a little more concerned are Google's large number of other hardware partners. Larry Page was adamant that Mobility would be run very separately and it would remain business as usual for anyone currently working with the Android OS. But if this deal turns into a rampaging success, one has to wonder how long this "everyone's invited" attitude might last. When public uptake of your product is so dependent on providing the best quality device you can, Google might find itself looking at some of the cheaper phones and tablets shoehorning Android onto aging hardware and think “why are we letting them do that again?”
So far, of course, its other partners seem to be nodding along with this “we’re staying best of friends” line. HTC, Sony, LG - they're all giving the thumbs up and saying "oh, you two look so cute together, we're so glad it finally happened" - but deep down each one of them must be having a little bit of a "you bitch" moment. It's impossible to not assume that Motorola's products will benefit significantly from the deal - something that might even be considered a wee bit of an unfair advantage for the new lover, especially if you've been a previous dancing partner such as Sony or LG.
And what about the South Korean elephant in the room: Samsung. Google liked Sammy enough to work with them on the aforementioned Nexus S (and even on its Chromebooks) but they apparently didn't like them enough to put a ring on it. It could be that Samsung's legal stoush with Apple over its Galaxy Tab 10.1 put a sour note on the relationship, but it must be assumed that the wheels bringing Moto and Google together were in motion long before Apple delivered its infringement smackdown. Could it be that Samsung's business as a manufacturer supplying parts to anyone who needs it (including the much vaunted A5 chips for the Apple iPad 2, oddly enough) wasn't quite what Google was looking for? It's hard to guess, but Samsung must be looking down at its party shoes and feeling a little "all dressed up and nowhere to go" at this junction.
Where to from here?
Where Google goes from here is anyone's guess. While many pundits see this as the company's first step on the way to being the next Apple - "our software on our hardware and nowhere else" - it's hard to imagine it abandoning so many lucrative and high performing partners. It's far more likely that we'll see MotoGoog devices as the flagships – earlier releases and the pick of the newest OS iterations – with everyone else free to come to the table over the cake that has already been cut.
Whatever it turns out to bring, Google acquiring Motorola Mobility is one of the most significant deals we've seen in the mobile computing space for some time - riding along with these two lovebirds is going to make for a very interesting experience.
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