Originally published: November 1, 2011
Last updated: December 20, 2011 - 3:30pm
It's been nearly three months since Google caught the tech world off guard by offering to buy Motorola Mobility Holdings for $12.5 billion. That's 11 weeks of head scratching, followed by second guessing, followed by some daring analysis, followed by more head scratching. Just what is Google getting out of this deal? Aside from patents, that is. A hint may lie in the release of Motorola's Droid Razr. The latest in Motorola's popular Droid line of Android-powered phones, the Droid Razr will reportedly launch on Verizon's wireless network on Nov. 10. While it's unlikely to lure any iPhone lovers away from Apple, it could help Motorola gain back some market share from Samsung, which saw revenue from mobile handset sales rise 40% last quarter, compared with a 20% rise in Motorola's mobile devices.
Motorola's Droid Razr won't be the first smartphone to run Ice Cream Sandwich early. That honor goes to Samsung's Galaxy Nexus. But unlike that phone, the Droid Razr will soon become a Google-owned phone. Google has acted like it wanted to manufacture its own phones ever since the first Nexus, which saw disappointing sales but at least came close to Google's own vision of what an Android phone should look like. The Droid Razr will combine Motorola's hardware design with Google's software design. Once it owns Motorola, Google can design smartphones exactly as it wants them to be, only with the brand and expertise of one of the world's top mobile firms. Which gets at the real reason I suspect motivated Google's purchase of Motorola, beyond its patent portfolio: Google has no idea what will happen if it manufactures its own smartphones. Nobody does, really. But the only way for it to find out for sure is to try it. The mobile industry is young and competitive and rapidly evolving. It is by nature unpredictable. So it's just as easy to say Google will regret buying Motorola as it is to say it will look back on the deal as a shrewd move. This is a risky transaction that my not pan out, but where there is risk, there can also be reward. And if it doesn't pan out? There is a downside, but it's not so terrible. Google can shut down its phone manufacturing operations, or sell it off. Or, most likely, spin it off into a subsidiary and let Motorola return to the public markets. Minus the patents, of course.
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