The Motorola buyout: Can Google reinvent itself as an Apple?

Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility is a risky but perhaps necessary bet to create an Apple-caliber ecosystem

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So having a captive "partner" could get Google out of these up-and-down relationships. But perhaps the most immediate advantage to Google's Motorola Mobility purchase is Motorola's significant portfolio of mobile patents, which Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry has noted could really help Google overcome a significant weakness in the mobile patent wars that Apple recently shifted into a shock-and-awe campaign.

As Motorola Mobility continued to struggle this spring and summer with weaker-than-expected sales, you can see why Google decided to buy it out: to have a hardware arm it could control and use as the basis for a stronger Android ecosystem.

Getting an advantage from Motorola will not be easy
But doing this is much harder than it sounds. Tech history is replete with similar acquisitions that went nowhere. Integrating established companies is never easy, as you have years and years of history, groupthink, and legacy to integrate.

Google and Motorola could not be more different. Google is the epitome of the freewheeling Silicon Valley company run by young people for whom work and play are one and the same, while business success is a side effect. Motorola Mobility is a stodgy, conservative, bureaucratic, tin-eared company that has lots of smart people but no endemic creative instinct.

I would love to be a fly on the wall as the Google Android and Motorola device teams begin working together! As Don DePalma, president of the consultancy Common Sense Advisory puts it, "This may end up being a bridge too far for Google."

Beyond the cultural differences is the reality that you can't just graft products together. They have to be designed to reinforce each other in natural ways that delight customers. What Motorola and Google each bring to the table don't often fit, and "delight" seems rarely have to been a goal. Over time, they could evolve that way, but the strategy takes far too long in business, especially in the tech segment.

Google theoretically now has most of the pieces: an operating system that works on tablets, smartphones, and set-top devices, plus a hardware manufacturer that makes all three devices and has some experience with business customers (to help Google play equally well in individual and business settings, which only Apple iOS devices do today). Throw in Chrome OS as the post-PC extension and Google's various cloud services as the application glue, and Motorola's patent portfolio, and Google's portfolio seems to have everything that Apple does, except for the media business -- that is, iTunes.

The potential is there, and Google has the luxury of having an obscene amount of money to invest in the necessary transformation -- it can't be just integration -- of its portfolio of device and supporting technologies. To date, Google has not shown the kind of leadership or attention span to succeed. After several years of work, the Chromebooks' Chrome OS still hasn't delivered what was promised (much less what is needed), and Google has let its smartphone version of Android languish as it focused on the tablet version -- a dangerous letting-go that makes me question how many efforts Google can sustain simultaneously. Then there are all those "throw it against the wall" projects like Google Wave that Google has become infamous for.

By contrast, Apple's been working on its ecosystem doggedly and with singular focus for more than a decade, and it has incredible financial reserves, plus the long-term industry contracts and -- most important -- the customer base whose passions are entrenched and tested. Oh, and an amazing leadership team that extends several levels beyond CEO Steve Jobs that has been pulling off a strong ecosystem for years.

Google may have the right idea. But the execution and the transformation are what will matter, not the idea. CEO Larry Page does seem determined to change Google's culture to one of purposeful innovation, not college dorm experimentation, but that's no mean feat. Still, I wish Google good luck. The industry needs a strong Apple competitor, though at this point I don't see anyone who's up to the job.

This article, "The Motorola buyout: Can Google reinvent itself as an Apple?," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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