The more Seb Janacek thinks about the Google-Motorola deal, the more he thinks the search giant has made a mistake – and one driven by desperation.
Much has been written about the Google-Motorola deal. About how it adds 60 per cent to Google’s headcount. Much has been written about what it means for Android’s platform partners such as HTC and Samsung, and even more has been said about Google’s access to Motorola’s vast, though not exhaustive, library of patents.
The argument for the Google-Motorola deal that interests me in the context of Apple is the idea that Google wants to use the deal to become an integrated supplier of hardware and software. Just like Apple.
It would be an admission that the Apple way is the right way. Ideological arguments aside, the balance sheet would seem to agree.
Google is a software company, pure and simple. It’s a brilliant software company that has developed an incredibly successful product that makes it a huge amount of money. But it is just a software company. Or at least it was at the start of the week.
For over 30 years, Apple has been a hardware company that also happens to be a brilliant software company. Steve Jobs regularly quotes Alan Kay, a pioneering computer scientist who worked on user interfaces and object-oriented programming.
Kay said: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”
The quote often appears on Jobs’ keynote slides and he uses it to illustrate the thinking that lies at the core of what Apple believes as a company. Apple, under Jobs, has been fiercely possessive about its software, using it purely to sell hardware. The company’s position as richest in the world has rather vindicated this approach.
Android has been wildly successful at growing market share but at a cost. The user experience across the Android ecosystem is not…
…what Google would like it to be. “Fragmented” is the term bandied about by Jobs and others in relation to the Android experience. Google prefers “open”.
Although Google does not separate out Android revenue and profits in its financial statements, they are certainly dwarfed by what Apple reports. For all the success in developing the platform, the money isn’t flowing into Mountain View the way it pours into Cupertino.
In contrast to Google’s “open” designation, it sees Apple as “closed” and iOS as a “walled garden”. Yet despite this perception, you still have to open the gate to go in and no one’s stopping you from opening the gate to get out again.
The problem, of course, is that Apple’s ideology of integrated hardware and software has been part of its DNA since its early days. It has flowed through everything it has done, especially since Jobs returned to the helm. It is fundamental to its strategy, product development and its marketing.
Can Google simply buy Motorola and emulate that same approach of holistic software and hardware integration? Is it even possible to splice together the corporate DNAs in the time needed?
No chance. Motorola, while a household brand, has struggled in recent years with falling revenues and profits. Furthermore, it hasn’t released anything really revolutionary since the best-selling Razr phone in 2005.
Its Droid Android phones were well received and sold well. Its Xoom tablets were well received and sold modestly. There’s been nothing in the past five years that suggests the company is capable of coming up with the killer phone that Google so needs to emulate the iPhone’s wild profits.
The challenge is as much about operations as it is product innovation. Google inherits factories and manufacturing equipment, supply-chain logistics, inventory control and all the other delights associated with being a hardware company. Something the software company will find out very quickly.
Google will also see its ranks swell by around 20,000 following the acquisition, assuming a programme of redundancies isn’t waiting in the wings. The sheer level of corporate culture shift that will be required to turn Google and Motorola into an Apple simulacrum is dizzying.
Another Alan Kay aphorism is: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Google’s plan to reinvent itself is unlikely to bear the same fruit that it has for Apple.
Google has been wildly successful in growing the Android platform in the past two years by giving it away. Apple has been wildly successful selling iPhones. Selling your product obviously makes you more money than giving it away. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Perhaps Google has realised that the open ideology and huge profits are not necessarily mutually conducive. There’s no shame in copying Apple’s way of doing things as it did with its software so why not its entire business model?
Good luck with that one. It might take a little time and a few patents.