So Google owns Motorola. What happens now?

After waiting months and finally gaining approval from China on the deal, Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola closed on Tuesday. Effective immediately, Dennis Woodside takes over the CEO spot for Motorola Mobility, which will be an independently run division of Google. Sanjay Jha has stepped down from the top Motorola spot after leading the company since August of 2008. Jha was instrumental in being one of the lead companies to embrace Google’s Android operating system and helping to kick off the Android revolution with the first Android 2.0 device; the Motorola Droid.
So what happens next for the Google-owned Motorola group? According to a blog post announcing the news, Google CEO, Larry Page, says “Dennis and the team at Motorola will be creating the next generation of mobile devices that will improve lives for years to come.” There’s no mention of using Motorola’s patents to protect Google and its Android hardware partners although we’ll likely see just that in future litigation efforts. Page’s remark likely squashes one prediction I made last year about the deal when I said Google would likely spin off the Motorola hardware assets and retain the patent portfolio.
Patents are important, but so is hardware now
Why the perceived change in focus from patents to hardware production then? Because, to a varying degree, depending on your perspective, Android is still a bit of a mess (GigaOm Pro subscription required).
Folks will argue that few consumers actually care if their Android device has the latest software version, but I see more and more customer comments showing the contrary. Ironically it was just yesterday that Motorola communicated why some devices won’t see Android 4.0 and the comment stream lit up a bonfire of jeers. One such device not getting Android 4.0 is the Droid 3, which launched two months after Google said new phones would see software updates for 18 months after release.
Late to the tablet game
Another problem? Tablet sales. Depending on how you measure it, some would say there is no tablet market; there’s just an iPad(s aapl) market. Apple’s slate still accounts for the majority of tablet sales, even if you include the top selling Android tablet — which is less about Android and more about Amazon(s amzn) — from the last holiday season: The Kindle Fire.
Android was late to the tablet game by a year and even then, its first tablet (from Motorola, no less) was rushed and incomplete. Android’s open approach certainly allows for various tablet makers to sit down at the table, but nobody yet is showing a good hand in terms of sales, save maybe Asus and Samsung to a small degree. I still think Google has a chance to use Motorola to kill two birds with one stone: A phone-powered LapDock — something Motorola already makes — that uses both Android and ChromeOS.
It’s all about control
Carriers are still too involved in the overall Android process and part of the problem here. Apple turned the tables and was able to dictate terms to the carriers, giving the company the power to push its own software updates to iPhones. Google has no such power with the lone exception of its Nexus device line. So in order to help gain back control of Android, it will be opening up the Nexus program from one select partner to multiple hardware makers. That allows for total control of the software and gives Google more devices to sell directly to consumers alongside the $399 Galaxy Nexus.
Google is treading a fine line here, to be sure. It needs to rein in an open source platform by creating hardware but without upsetting its current hardware partners. If it can’t do that, Android will continue to be a meta-platform that others use to create their own branded software with skins and user interface tweaks. I think it’s telling that one of the conditions China had in order to approve the Motorola deal was that Google keep Android open for at least five more years. The mobile market surely moves fast, but if I were an Android hardware partner, I’d have a five-year transition plan in the works — think Tizen, for example — because Google’s continued success may rely on a growing amount of Android control.
Thumbnail image courtesy of AndroidPit