Just like high school jock envy, those who fall short of Apple’s greatness want a piece of the pie. On Monday, Google announced its bid to purchase Motorola Mobility for a mere $12.5 billion, merging the search-engine giant with a leading handset manufacturer. Apple’s exclusivity with AT&T for the first few iPhone generations created a unique relationship between “distributor” and manufacturer. As the legend goes, AT&T and Apple negotiated to create a unit that would function on the existing network, but the exclusivity made a boatload of cash for both parties and propelled the iPhone into the market. Others were left building competitive devices that would be measured against the functionality of the iPhone. The current leader over the past 12 months has been Android, trailed by some other strong contenders that have entered the market. The common factor for all is that a software developer––be it Apple, Google, or Microsoft––is handcuffed by the negotiations with both handset manufacturers and the carriers who will distribute the millions of phones.
Let’s cut to the chase––Google wants patents. The hurricane of patent lawsuits over the last few months points directly at the problem. Google’s potential purchase of Motorola Mobility has created excitement since it already manufactures smartphones and has been doing so for some time with debatable success (depending on what measure one uses). The proverbial R&D and patent drag race has bumped the ante up considerably. As Gizmodo pointed out on Tuesday, there are losers everywhere. Innovation is what drove us to where we are, and these patent wars combined with the dismal economy worldwide and bleak future predications could stymie the very momentum that got us to this mobile-enabled, always-connected place, for better or for worse.
If the techie masses rose up in revolt, forming a Wi-Fi-enabled, smartphone-wielding protesting mob, lighting their way by the glow of the Zippo lighter app, there would be little media coverage. Chants of “free our patents, free innovation” would not ring throughout the nation. Protest signs adorned with words written in courier and those archaic, round shiny disks our parents call CDs would not attract TV cameras in droves. Would Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert side with the byte-obsessed nerds and join their ranks on the National Mall or dispatch a senior correspondent to compile a sequence of geek- and social ineptitude–based jokes? Let’s go with, umm, doubtful.
With the market left to its own devices, what may happen? If Google sinks its teeth into Motorola Mobility, maybe we will see the tide turn in the smartphone sea. The good news is that Apple gave the market a huge, delicious taste of an intuitive user interface and higher-quality handsets, and since we like the taste, the competitors are fighting tooth and nail over the tech/patents that will help them stir up some new waves. Those same waves that foster innovation are destroyed as they smash into the breakwater that is the patent lawsuit disaster. At least the Verizon, HTC, and Samsung ships have all given safe passage to the deal since it may reduce the choppy waters caused by the incoming patent hurricane.
Future predictions on the horizon…
Apple buys RIM. Yes, we feel faint as well, but would the scent of BlackBerry destroy the feng shui of Apple’s proposed new Cupertino digs? The keyboard clicking would be a disturbance, at any rate. Microsoft buys Nokia. We agree––it’s like your friends who shared an apartment for 10 years finally getting married. HP splinters webOS to accelerate Palm OS–like separation. RIM refused to get off the recliner and answer the doorbell as the chimes incessantly rang with innovation calling again and again. Now it is faced with a declining market share and what some consider grim expectations of acquisition.)
Author: John Carew
Photo credit: Diver227