The technology world was abuzz yesterday with one main storyline: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) taking the plunge and shelling out about $12.5 billion to purchase Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI ) . However, beyond the obvious implications of Motorola shareholders cashing out and Google running the risk of upsetting smartphone partners like HTC, Samsung, and Ericsson, here are a few more about the deal that weren't as heavily reported.
1. Will Google use Motorola to further its tablet ambitions?
Google has been known to step in with its own designs when its partners didn't pull their own weight. The most obvious example was when the company designed its Nexus One phone -- an experiment that didn't bring massive sales but provided a blueprint for other handset makers like HTC and Samsung on how to design a premier Android design. With Android tablets failing to gain traction, it wouldn't be surprising if Google used Motorola to release a premier tablet.
The wrinkle in all this is that other tablet makers have been unable to compete with the very aggressive $500 price point at which Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) starts selling iPads. If you're a hardware-focused company like Motorola that needs gross margins above 25% for tablets to be a profitable endeavor, that's a tough price target to hit. Apple has essentially bought up the tablet component supply and has kept the iPad at a price point that's nearly impossible to undercut with a comparable product. However, Google might be inclined to take a loss on tablets in the long-term interest of building an Android user base.
Such a move would surely upset its hardware partners, but it would also increase the size of the user base. So far, Android has badly lagged the iPad when it comes to tablet-focused apps. By aggressively pricing a tablet through Motorola, Google could build out Android's user base and bring developers back to the platform. In the end, that'd be a benefit to all partners selling Android tablets.
2. Does Google need to aggressively step into the tablet space?
However, as much sense as it might make for Google to be more aggressive in the tablet space, it may prove unnecessary. That's because there's another partner in the Android ecosystem that could sidestep Apple's pricing practice. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) has long been eyeing a tablet of its own. That's important because Amazon has two unique traits among Android's hardware partners:
- It has an extreme long-term focus. The company is willing to invest large sums of money into new product lines while not seeking an immediate payback. Simply put, it has a higher tolerance for burning money even if gains are two or three years down the road.
- Amazon could also offer various digital media services that it could tie into a tablet, allowing it to collect a continuing revenue stream from buyers after their initial hardware purchase.
These two points mean that of all Android partners, Amazon could be the most willing to undercut Apple's pricing to gain market share. The company has made a major investment across digital delivery media -- whether it's selling brand-new Lady GaGa albums at a huge loss, offering free streaming to Amazon Prime customers, or promoting its cloud-based streaming service -- all of which could be tied together to create an Android experience unlike anything offered today. By aggressively pricing its tablet, Amazon could quickly become the predominant Android tablet provider and recoup losses by selling more digital media.
3. What does the deal mean for Motorola component suppliers?
Motorola has a strong relationship with several large component suppliers. If Google's buyout of Motorola is simply a move to shore up the company against patent lawsuits and if the big Goo plans to invest little in new smartphone and tablet designs, the deal will have little effect on these suppliers. The larger fear would be that Google would eventually tire of Motorola's hardware focus, and these component suppliers would lose a valuable customer.
Yet, if Google does get more aggressive in launching top-of-the line Motorola products, it could present opportunity. One Motorola component supplier that has the most to gain is NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) . The company has a strong relationship with Motorola, scoring notable processor design wins in both the company's Xoom Tablet and smartphones like the Droid Bionic and Atrix. It also tallied up an impressive array of wins in other Android-based tablets in part thanks to being the "reference design" on Android's first tablet version, Honeycomb.
However, there are reports that rival Texas Instruments has been selected as the reference design processor for Google's next-generation version of Android. That's neither good news nor a mortal blow; reference designs are used as a means of speeding time to market, but plenty of tablet makers selected Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM ) Snapdragon processor over NVIDIA's reference design last generation, for example.
Nonetheless, having Google acquire a key partner presents opportunity for NVIDIA and mitigates that threat. It doesn't ensure future success, but if Google's new Motorola hardware arm aggressively launches flagship smartphones or tablets, it could lean on its familiarity with NVIDIA and use its processors in high-volume designs.
4. What to do about the set-top boxes?
While Motorola might be best known for its mobile phones, the company also has a strong set-top box division. Motorola's set-top business is reliable and profitable as it operates in a near-duopoly with fellow set-top slinger Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO ) . Even if Google is content with taking a backseat in phones or tablets to ensure not upsetting its partners, it could aggressively squeeze value out of the deal by getting aggressive in this space.
The obvious implication is that Google could package parts of its Google TV into Motorola set-top boxes. Cable companies will understandably be cautious of such a move; Google TV has long represented a threat to their business. If Google can finally make Google TV a success and package it into set-top boxes, the company finally opens up televisions as another revenue opportunity. Couch potatoes will now be clicking on Google ads and giving the company money while interacting with their TVs. However, if Google pushes too hard with Google TV, it could give market share back to Cisco.
With Cisco reportedly exploring the chance of divesting its set-top box division as part of its companywide streamlining, a sale might get held up until Google's full intentions in the space are made clear.
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