Google’s Motorola Mobility acquisition and Android in China

Having worked at Motorola for over a year and a half now, I come to realize just how quickly the mobile industry moves and grows, and just how volatile it can be. In January, Motorola split into Motorola Solutions and Motorola Mobility. While the day-to-day work experience really did not change at all, besides maybe some internal websites changing, it was a huge wake-up call–while Motorola had been struggling to make gains in the mobile communications space, we had always considered the company to be a Titanic–too large to fail. Our only worry was also being too large to move, allowing our competitors, a speedboat called HTC and a massive submarine named Samsung, to move faster in our waters. We knew and know that our products need improvement, and that they could be better, and strived to move past tangible levels of company politics to create a better user experience for the people who use our phones.

A few days ago, I woke up to my Bionic’s email alert sound. Drowsily looking at my phone, I was expecting an email regarding a regression that our China team needed to fix. Instead I got an internal message from Sanjay announcing that Google had purchased us. I was ecstatic–not that the regression had been fixed (okay, partially because the regression had been fixed), but because Google’s becoming our new overlords could be the kick that we have needed for a long time.

Let me be clear, the majority of Motorola’s engineers are very cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses that we have in the industry. We are also aware of our trailing place in the mobile phone market, and our struggling, but very gradually improving status in the smart phone and tablet space. The employees at Motorola work at Motorola despite the company being in a struggling state because we believe that we can help save the company, make our devices better, and make our customers happier. Having fought the fight the so long, Google’s announcing our acquisition meant many things for us: confirmation that our hard work meant something, freedom from worries of operating at a loss, domination over our competitors (despite the fact that we are still operating rather separately), a breath of fresh culture, a more abominable, yet, more agile Titanic to pursue excellence with, and the notorious Google food. The meeting we had to discuss our acquisition was filled with smiles I had not seen for a really long time.

The press quickly went crazy over the news of the acquisition. None of us got much done at work because we spent time speculating: Why did they buy us? What about layoffs? Will we be able to improve to have code that is up to Google standards? Will we face the same fate as Palm? Can we finally rm -rf that MOTOBLUR directory? Should we call it Googorola or Moogle? At the end of the work day, we still did not understand why Larry Page decided us “welcome Motorolans to [his] family of Googlers”. But what the press did not talk about was the team I work with every night from 9PM to 3AM – the Motorola Mobility China Team.

Android has a larger presence than Americans could ever imagine in Mainland China. In January, over 50% of smart phones in the Mainland were running Android. Considering that like the rest of East Asia either runs almost entirely on smart phones or is running to smart phones, and remembering the 1.3 billion head population, this is huge. For Google, Android is the company’s only foot in the door. Everyone in China knows that Google is a economic, financial, and even political powerhouse. Everyone knows about the censorship fiasco that occurred in the Mainland, causing the monolith to essentially run and hide in Hong Kong. What the press is forgetting is that Google’s purchasing Motorola Mobility means that Google will directly have software and hardware devs in the Mainland, all working on an OS that is dominating the continent.

Motorola and Nokia phones have strong product recognition in China, where they make up 90 percent of all mobile phones. Motorola also controls approximately 20% of the smartphone market. While Google’s presence is in China, Google has never managed to successfully operate in the Mainland–and it’s not that Google has not been continuously trying. By purchasing Motorola Mobility, Google is instantly becomes a large and significant operator in Nanking, but also has the ability to maintain that they are running Motorola as a separate brand and division separated from the bulk of the company. Hence, Google not only has the benefit of controlling the stack like Apple does, 17 000 patents, and instant control over 29% of the global Android OEM market–Google will have over 20% of the handset market in Mainland China, the world’s fastest growing and most populous market, along with an operating branch which has a name that can take the potential hits dealt out by the Chinese government.

The air at Moogle is a lot lighter right now. It is more hopeful now. For both companies, this may be a serious win-win, or at least a very exciting story.

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Alan Sien Wei Hshieh is a software developer, user interface engineer, prototyper, web/graphical designer, and musician living in Cupertino, California, in the United States.
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