Regulators in China have finally approved the Google acquisition of Motorola Mobility, clearing the way for the acquisition to close quickly, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek story this weekend. Acknowledging that the proposed deal has now cleared all global jurisdictions, Google said in a statement yesterday “we expect to close immediately.”
The Motorola Mobility acquisition gives Google 17,000 patents with which to do legal battle with and wage defenses against competitors in what has become an extremely litigious segment of the economy.
But the larger question becomes how Google itself wants to play in the handset space now that it controls a large hardware manufacturer that competes with the same handset manufacturers -- like Samsung and HTC -- that have made the Android operating system a global success.
Google’s challenge in competing with Apple has been its strength -- openness of the OS. The robust, freely available OS has scaled quickly because it gave OEMs a way of competing against the iPhone across any carrier. But the resulting iterations of the OS on smartphones and tablets have created a fragmented universe that is discouraging some developers, despite Android’s market-share dominance.
The China regulatory clearance required that Google maintain openness of Android for the next five years, which appears to mean that Google cannot create versions of the OS that are not available to others. Still, the Motorola Mobility acquisition puts Google in a better position to compete directly with Apple, since now it also owns both hardware and software in the mobile ecosystem.
How the company plans to leverage that new advantage without raising the ire of current software partners that are necessary to the future of Android is an open question.