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What the Google/Motorola deal means for publishers

Jon MundyJon Mundy
By Jon Mundy, Director of Business Development UK, apprupt GmbH Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12.5bn last Monday represents a crucial moment in the development of Android. Since then there’s been a huge amount of speculation about the short and long term implications and how this is going to affect the mobile sector. But what does it mean for publishers and media owners?

The truth is, not a lot. This is a deal about patents and has very little to do with media. Over the last few years Google, Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and anyone else with half an interest in mobile have been tied up in protracted and expensive patent disputes. Unlike its competitors, as a relative newcomer Google’s patent cupboard has looked decidedly barren. By purchasing Motorola it has now got 24,500 patents, many of which go back to the very beginning of the mobile era. This puts Google in a far better position to defend itself against its competitors, and ensure that the rampant growth of Android continues.

However, Motorola’s more than just a trove of patents, it also has 11% of the US smartphone market (according to Nielsen figures, July 2011). Admittedly it’s not doing brilliantly, having lost $137m in the first 6 months of this year. Surely the temptation for Google would be to try to copy Apple’s business model by closely binding together Moto’s hardware and Android’s software to create a more unified user experience?

In my view this is unlikely. Google has expressly stated that Motorola will remain separate, and it’s worth remembering that the staggering success of Android has largely been due to Google’s policy of enabling OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to freely license Android.

By favouring Motorola, Google would run the risk of antagonising the partners who have made Android such a success, and could drive them directly into the welcoming arms of Microsoft and Windows Phone 7.   

Right now, mobile is a numbers game and though the rise of the smartphone has been astonishing, it’s only just getting started. Google’s policy of offering Android license free has been remarkably effective so far, and while Google remains in the business of advertising it will continue to need as many punters as possible using its systems.

What it may mean in the longer term, however, is that Google will be able to put more pressure on its OEM partners to ensure that devices run the most current version of Android. Motorola handsets already run ‘pure’ Android, and it’s hard to imagine its new owners allowing Moto to release devices with anything but the very latest OS running. This will reduce the degree of fragmentation in the market and help make developing for Android more straightforward.

There has been some discussion over Motorola’s other products, including TV boxes, routers and even baby monitors. While these are undoubtedly of interest and potential value, it’s hard to imagine that they figured highly in Google’s mind when this deal was being negotiated. So far (Android powered) Google TV has struggled to rival its mobile sibling’s success.

Android has struggled to compete with Apple in terms of both the effective monetisation of apps and enabling consumers to buy content. This may be partly because of the differing demographics of each platform, but it’s also undoubtedly due to challenges presented by the way the platform operates. For the reasons mentioned above, I don’t anticipate this changing anytime soon. However, the sheapprupter numbers involved, and the plainly aggressive growth strategy Google has adopted, make it ultimately impossible to understate the impact Android will have in coming years.

apprupt is an Associate Member of AOP.