Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Google’s Motorola buy: Searching for more robust results…

With its latest acquisition, Google seeks to escape a one-trick pony fate.

Many a rationale has been advanced for Google’s headline-grabbing buy of Motorola Mobility. These attribute the buy, variously, to a defensive move by Google to protect Android from patent litigation, and to Google searching for a more vertically integrated mobile phone strategy a la Apple. While there may be truth to these attributions, I think most people have just forgotten the simplest rationale: a search for revenue streams beyond search-based advertising.

Google is a marvelously innovative company. However, I’ve frequently derided Google for being a one-trick pony (as have many others), deriving more than 95 percent of its revenues from a single source: search-based advertising. And, as I've written elsewhere, such a model is enormously vulnerable to disruption. Which means, the company just hasn’t been able to convert its vaunted innovative prowess into hard cash.

But isn't it a terrible idea to become a competitor to your own customers, as Google must now compete with other handset manufacturers who have pitched in their lot with Android, such as Samsung, HTC, and Sony Ericsson? You bet it is. However, Google is adroitly straddling a fine tradeoff here – it seems to have decided that the risk of antagonizing a few customers is outweighed by the benefits. The move derisks Google and makes its business model more robust by creating an entirely new revenue stream.

And for a Google desperate to escape a one-trick pony fate, the $12 billion or so extra revenues from Motorola’s handset sales, even at low profitability, can scarcely hurt. As an added benefit, the integration gives a revenue model for Android, something it has lacked despite obvious popularity. Overall, it must be stated that this is an audacious and welcome move on Google's part as it seeks to become a strong mobile industry player. Google sure has a right to feel lucky with this one.