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With Motorola Deal, Google Shows It Doesn't Care About Industrial Design

All it took was one $3 billion deal for Google to reveal what the company is really about.

There are moments that define companies, that go beyond the meaningless platitudes penned by the marketers and, for better or worse, reveal the very nucleic acids of ethos flowing through the water coolers and holding the cubicles together.

Google has sold Motorola Mobility for a mere $2.91 billion (after buying it for $12.5 billion in 2011). And in selling off its last and only chance to build incredible mobile hardware in-house, the company has stated what it isn't. Google is not Apple. They are not hunting for the next Jony Ive who will tantalize you with the next aluminum or the next glass. They will not make the next must-have phone, tablet, or wearable.

Google is not the next simplicity.

Google is not your cute product company, your sexy product company, or your mom’s product company. Google does not care about trends, even if it knows what’s trending.

And contrary to common belief, Google is not an advertising company, a cloud company, a services company, a fiber optic company, a chauffeur company, a thermostat company, an Android company, or even an android company.

Google isn’t an internet of things company, nor is it an internet company.

Google is an infrastructure company.

What we’ve been calling search, and Gmail, and Adwords, and G+, and artificial intelligence, and home automation, and headsets, and privacy, and Android OS, and open architecture, and mantras like "don’t be evil"—it’s all just infrastructure in an age when our electricity is just another word for information.

Google does not want Motorola Mobility—even though with $50 billion in cash, Google can obviously afford to keep it—because Google is only interested in industrial design as a tool to expand the reach of their digital infrastructure (see: Nest and Glass). Google views phones as not just a solved design problem, but a nuisance in a world in which objects will become obsolete, in which humans will eventually connect to one another through only one ethereal conduit: Google.

UPDATE: Did our passionate rant speak too soon?

Tony Fadell, who is best known as the father of the iPod and founding Nest, is apparently taking control of Google's hardware with the rest of the Nest team.

The even bigger twist, though, is that Google negotiated to retain Motorola's highly secretive Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) division that brought us the technology in the Moto X, which is led by Regina Dugan, the former head of DARPA. That group also just hired, and will retain, one of our favorite UX designers in the world, Ivan Poupyrev. ATAP will be repositioned to work more closely with the Android team.

Even still, much of our thesis here stands. Is ATAP an industrial design firm? Not as you know it. From what we can tell, they're more a tech and UX firm after swinging-for-the-fences interactions like electronic pills and tattoos that could form as a serve of communication. Indeed, they may be inventing Google's ethereal conduit as we speak.

[Image: Google via Annette Shaff / Shutterstock]

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  • Let us look at it from a pure business perspective. Why should Google make phones and alienate its other partners? As of today there are major players who help it to spread android: The big daddy Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, (Nokia) soon and numerable other small manufacturers. Why corner them all for a minuscule share in the H/W department and lose big? Apple would have laughed when Google bought Motorola, partly 'cos they knew that aping the Apple ecosystem is difficult and too late for android. And this Motorola/ Google deal hasn't been that much of a dampener on the books either (a view shared by the share markets as well: prices jumped). When El Goog bought Moto for $12.5, Moto had $3b in cash and $1b in Tax credits. That brings the deal down to $8.5b. Add to it the sale of Motorola's set top boxes to Arris for $2.5b, effect is net $6b. Now the sale of Motorola to Lenovo for $2.9b brings down the deal to $3.1b. Patents are worth $5b. So net=profit

  • Google was never interested in becoming a phone hardware manufacturer. That's not a slight, they are a software company. They bought Motorola for its patent portfolio to protect Android. Motorola was losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

    They sold the money losing hardware business, retained the patents and licensed them to Lenovo and no longer compete with their other customers like Samsung and HTC. Smart move.

  • Google is changing their business model completely I think. But to where or what is still don't know. Probably robotics. ( They bought around 10 robotics and few other artificial intelligence company. ) They are not competing with Microsoft, apple or even Facebook. They have something bigger in mind!

  • Chris Patrick

    I thought buying Nest would take care the industrial design problem of Google?

  • Well...not that simple. Why would Google want to be in the messy business of hardware design when it can control a far more robust technology based totally on software where one can innovate and iterate on almost a minute by minute basis. The fact is the mobile business of Motorola was lost in terms of both innovation and strategy. It is much to Google's credit that they are willing to take a large loss (10 billion dollars) and walk away from a second rate acquisition that was totally misaligned with Googles development culture and profit model. This has nothing to do with Google rejecting industrial design.

    Charles L Mauro CHFP President MauroNewMedia