Editorial: Google dumping Motorola is genius

BY Stefan Constantinescu

Published 30 Jan 2014

Every once in a while, you’ll read a press release that burns itself into the back of your mind. Microsoft buying Nokia. Sony Ericsson turning into Sony. And then the strangest of them all, Google buying Motorola. Less than two years ago, when that news dropped, you heard a silence in the air as every tech journalist around the world stopped typing away and started thinking about what just happened. Why would Google, who lets anyone use Android to make a phone and/or tablet, buy a phone maker? Is Google trying to become Apple? What’s Samsung’s reaction?

Google would tell everyone the acquisition was about the patents, but then they released the Moto X, and with it waved their middle fingers in the air at everyone who was building gigantic overpowered glowing rectangles made out of plastic that bleeped and blooped whenever you touched them. Just a few months later, they released the Moto G, and verbally assaulted both Apple and Samsung on stage for ignoring people who want to pay less than $200 for a phone.

Despite all that bravado, you’ve already read the news by now, Google is selling Motorola to Lenovo. Google is keeping the advanced Research and Development team they helped build with Motorola, that team will now be a part of the Android group. But Motorola themselves, they’ll soon become the property of the world’s third largest smartphone maker.

What’s my reaction? I couldn’t be more delighted.

You see, Lenovo used to be a company no one knew about, but then in 2005 they bought IBM’s PC division. As a former IBM ThinkPad fanboi, I was deeply worried that this no-name Chinese company would ruin everything, but they didn’t. They learned everything they could from IBM, kept making ThinkPads to the same degree of quality they’ve always made them, and then also released cheaper models that sacrificed very little, but were obviously more attractive to those who couldn’t drop $1500 on a professional laptop.

If I had to take a guess, I’d say the exact same thing is going to happen with Motorola. Motorola is going to teach Lenovo about having a small, yet highly focused product portfolio. They’re going to teach them that creating your own Android skin is a total waste of time. They’re going to teach them more about cellular radio technology than they would’ve ever learned on their own. And best of all, Motorola, in exchange, will get access to Lenovo’s massive manufacturing arm.

There’s also the branding perspective. No one knows Motorola outside the United States. On the flip side, almost everyone knows who Lenovo is, except for the Americans. So you tell me, what’s easier? Transforming a brand that’s popular in one country into a brand that’s popular all over the world, or marketing a globally recognized brand in the United States? And hey, if Lenovo wanted to, they could keep selling phones in America as Motorola devices, and then as Lenovo devices in other parts of the world.

At some point Lenovo will kill the Motorola brand on their phones in much the same way Lenovo killed the IBM brand on their laptops, but that’s a conversation we’ll have at a later time and date.

Turning our attention to Samsung, it’s very obvious to me that Google used Motorola as a bargaining chip for the recently announced patent agreement between the two giants. Google probably told Samsung that they’ll get rid of Motorola if TouchWiz is taken behind the barn and put to sleep with one round of a deafeningly loud sawed off shotgun.

It’s a deal Samsung couldn’t say no to, because the last thing they want is to have their closest partner, Google, also become one of their fiercest competitors. But isn’t Motorola small? Yes, they are, so small in fact that they hardly even count as existing, but their very existence is a threat.

Won’t Google lose control of the future of Android? You and I have no idea what the terms of the agreement between Samsung and Google are. What I do know, however, is that Samsung couldn’t design an easy to use and functional piece of software if their lives depended on it. We’ll very likely see Samsung work on Android in conjunction with Google, in much the same way that we’ve seen Nokia add to Windows Phone. And instead of re-creating Google’s applications, like Samsung has been doing in the past, they’ll actually contribute useful ideas that will eventually become a part of the core Android experience.

What I’m trying to say is this: For TouchWiz to die, for Tizen to die, and for Google to get Samsung to cut the bullshit, Motorola had to be thrown under the bus. It’s a decision I would’ve made without hesitation. The fact that Lenovo is buying Motorola can only serve as good news since we’ll see competent people be put to good use at an even greater scale than Google could ever dream of accomplishing on their own.

Let’s face it, we all knew this acquisition was a mistake from the moment the press release dropped. Luckily, that mistake has not only been erased, but used to better the advancement of the world’s most widely used mobile operating system.