acquisition of Motorola Mobility this week by Google, for $12.5 billion dollars, caught most observers by surprise. The primary reason is, ostensibly, the treasure trove of patents that Motorola possesses. Google's Android has come under fire, or rather manufacturers of smartphones and tablets using Android have come under fire, for patent infringement; Apple is attempting to get some nice settlement from Samsung over patent infringement, and is working to get injunctions against their sales. Microsoft has also been getting some payments from manufacturers for infringing on their patents. This sort of patent fighting goes on all the time in the high-tech business, and the only way to get around it is to have a pile of patents of your own. That way you can cut deals for mutual use of patents, and everyone avoids lawsuits.
Google will now have an array of patents that rivals its opponents, and thus should be able to defend itself and its Android partners from legal attacks. Google has so far maintained that just because Motorola has something like a 30% market share for Android devices, other Android partners shouldn't be concerned. Google plans to be hands-off with Motorola, and not give them favored status with Android releases or other special treatment.
Google may believe that right now, but the advantages of producing both hardware and software will ultimately prove too seductive to resist. Apple seems to be doing pretty well with that combination, and the weaknesses of Android have been in the integration of hardware and software... which Google should be able to solve now. Also, Google only makes about $6 per Android phone from the ad sales, since they charge no licensing fees. Apple makes hundreds of dollars in profits from the phones they sell; don't you think Google will want to get some of that action?
What does all this mean for games? Probably not much right away. In the long term Google may use its Motorola set-top box position (Motorola is one of the leading makers of boxes for cable services) to leverage Google TV into more households, and thus provide a big opening for games in the Android Market. I expect improvements in the Android Market, but that probably would have been happening anyway.
It'll be interesting to see if Motorola phones start getting special Android features before other hardware makers, but I wouldn't expect anything like that right away. Will we see other hardware makers back away from Android? Perhaps if somehow Microsoft can make Windows Phone 7 more attractive... but with Nokia in hand, other makers may be reticent about putting more effort into WP7.
The Motorola-Google deal probably won't affect gamers much in the near term. By 2012, we should see if Google can work Google TV into the standard set-top box; if they can, the impact on gamers could be huge.