This morning, we were greeted with the announcement that Google – a company that built its business on top of the Internet, search and advertising – would be buying Motorola Mobility (MMI), the mobile smartphone, TV set-top box and home networking portion of Motorola that became a stand-alone company at the beginning of 2011.
There is little doubt as to the strategic and product-level advantages that this combination would give to both parties, should the acquisition be approved by shareholders and regulators. Strategically, it’s about intellectual property, as stated in Google’s afore-linked press release – with the un-said subtext that it will probably give pause to potential adversaries before becoming embroiled in the kinds of law suits that have gone back and forth between Apple and HTC, Apple and Samsung, and others.
Product-wise, in addition to the obvious synergies between Google (Android) and Motorola in the mobile smartphone (Droid) and tablet (Xoom) device categories, Motorola benefits by having an opportunity to make Google’s industry benchmark search technology native within all of its products. Search has been a long time focus of Motorola, on the TV infrastructure side. We’ll see over time whether or not this drives non-Motorola Android-based smartphone makers into the clutches of Microsoft Windows Phone.
Google potentially benefits in that MMI has the industry presence to help move Google’s Google TV technology from something of a pariah status within the TV industry into the industry mainstream. This would give Google TV a better opportunity to receive a broader test in the marketplace, through Tier-1 pay TV operators that buy from Motorola. With Motorola’s imprimatur, TV service providers might be more apt to test and adopt it (content owners willing). Conversely, if Google TV were to receive more of an industry blessing as a result, Motorola’s value proposition could be strengthened.
There are some “devil in the details” things that hopefully will be ironed out. For example, a Google-owned Motorola Mobility will have two IP television security solutions for conditional access and encryption: Google’s Widevine and Motorola’s SecureMedia. Will one of them “win”? My belief is that they could be complementary, and not an either-or situation, because Widevine shifted its focus to connected consumer electronics devices (e.g. smart TVs and other video-capable devices) a few years ago. Of course SecureMedia is going in the ‘multi-screen’ direction too, so we’ll see.
Another interesting area will be how the two companies leverage one anothers’ advertising technologies. MMI has an investment into Black Arrow, an advanced advertising specialist; and has an entire product line (Medios) devoted to the merchandizing of content on any screen.
It’s the cultural fit that’s less certain. Can the acquir-or handle the business that the acquir-ee brings? Will the acquir-ee bring some grown-up discipline to the acquir-or? In a way, I liken today’s Google to the Cisco of years past. Google’s acquisition binge of recent years resembles Cisco’s of 10-15 years ago. By its own admission, Cisco lost some of its focus in the process.
In retrospect, Cisco has been, and will remain, a network infrastructure provider (just as, at the end of the day, Intel will always be a chip company). Strategically, Cisco’s acquisition of one of Motorola’s biggest TV industry competitors – video infrastructure and set-top box supplier Scientific-Atlanta – a few years back made sense for Cisco, since video helps Cisco justify its network offerings. But culturally, Cisco has never truly become a “video” company, even with the company’s launch of Videoscape, which purports to unify large subcontinents of Cisco under a video solutions banner.
I ask myself: why did Cisco (S-A) lose its momentum in its video business, which has resulted in Cisco selling off a set-top factory, not to mention big layoffs, and not to mention Cisco’s abrupt shut-down of the once-hugely-popular Flip video business. Will the same thing happen to Motorola Mobility in a few years?
Or we can go off on another tangent and ask whether – by having bought its way into being Nokia’s primary smartphone OS supplier – Microsoft will have brought both Windows Phone and Nokia back from the brink – just as Android breathed new life into MMI’s mobile phones a couple of years back. Or, we can ask whether Apple feels in the slightest way threatened by any of this. Sequentially, too early to tell, and they’d never admit it if it did. But Google’s effect on Motorola Mobility, and vice versa, is not tangent to the conversation at all.