Google agrees to keep Android open for at least another five years

by Phil Hornshaw

Though just how “open” Google’s Android operating system is depends somewhat on who you talk to, the fact is that it’s one of the most open platforms on the market right now. It’s also going to stay that way, as Google has agreed to keep the platform free and open for “at least the next five years.”

Google agreed to an openness provision in order to get its acquisition of Motorola Mobility approved by the Chinese government, a roadblock in the way of the sale that happened last year, in which Google paid $12.5 billion to acquire the smartphone maker. According to a story from The Verge, Google had to agree to the provision to leave Android free and open to prevent the company from favoring Motorola over other device makers.

It makes sense, given that Android is huge and growing in China, and that China’s economy includes both device makers and components manufacturers that work with a number of companies. However, the provision in the deal was more precaution than anything, because Google hasn’t really shown any sign of wanting to favor Motorola, or do anything with Motorola, for that matter. And in fact, there are some rumors that Google is already looking for ways to unload the device manufacturing arm of the company.

All about the patents

Google’s acquisition of Motorola was less about having an in-house company through which to build devices, and more about patents. All over the world, Google and its Android partners are embroiled in patent fights, with both Apple and other companies like Microsoft and Oracle. And it seems many of those battles could go either way: Apple just filed a new preliminary injunction against Samsung in the U.S. after claiming its patents were infringed on its iPhone and iPad, and Microsoft won an injunction against Motorola with similar claims. Samsung has seen devices temporarily banned in countries in Europe and in Australia because of its fights with Apple.

So Motorola’s patent trove of 14,600 was something that Google was looking to grab to help in that fight, and indeed the company later noted that patents were really what the acquisition was all about. It doesn’t seem that Google has any real intention of getting into device-making with Motorola, even though it possibly could.

No big benefits

There’s also the fact that Android doesn’t really belong to Google, as The Verge notes. Android is the product of the Open Handset Alliance and Google is a member, but obviously Google supports the platform more than any other single entity. And even with the provision in the Chinese Motorola deal, and even if Google did own Android outright, you shouldn’t be too worried about Google closing off Android the way Apple has closed off its iOS platform, because that’s not how Google makes money.

Keeping Android open and free means that lots of device makers use the operating system for lots of different kinds of devices – almost 4,000 unique ones on the market as of right now. Google’s benefit is in advertising money generated by those devices in using its services, like Search and Maps. The more Android spreads and the more easily it does so, the more Google benefits.

So while it’s actually kind of interesting to think about what Google and Motorola might do together, it doesn’t seem like Google has much interest in doing too much in making devices itself. After all, that’s not its business, and apart from the occasional branded smartphone or tablet, it seems Google has no reason to step into a different realm.

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