The big headlines about Google’s $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility will focus on the smartphone business, but don’t overlook the potential of the set-top box and cable-modem unit to give Google a boost in the fight for our living rooms.
Google decided to start this week out with a bang, announcing a surprise purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. Everybody will be talking today about what this means for the Android operating system, how Google will use Motorola’s patent portfolio, and whether new ownership will help Motorola’s devices to wage a better war against Apple’s iEmpire. What they probably won’t be talking about (but should be) is the other part of Motorola’s business: the set-top box and cable modem unit.
Google and Apple don’t just fight over a single part of our digital life. They battle to own our entire digital experience, from end to end. That means being the OS that powers our smartphones and tablets, the computing experience we enjoy on our laptops (either via the OS or via a web browser that connects us to a cloud-based OS), the platforms through which we enjoy our media, and the online services where we store our data. What they both understand is that the more parts of that experience they can control and integrate, the harder it will be for us to switch in the future.
Regardless of how much mobile computing we do, the home will always be a key battleground in this fight. In many homes, Motorola devices provide the key link from our big, expensive TV’s and our home networks out to the Internet. Set-top boxes offer Google an opportunity to offer new distribution for video content, provide enhanced integration with its other services (especially nascent Google+) and potentially expand its ad-serving and optimization empire by partnering more closely with cable companies.
Cable modems offer a different opportunity. They are silent and often invisible to the consumer, but they are responsible for managing the ever-increasing flow of network traffic from more and more home devices. The more we do, the more clogged that network can get and the more the experience can degrade. Routers (like those inside the cable modems) can heavily influence this experience by prioritizing certain types of traffic over others. Providers of business-grade VOIP systems often use routers that prioritize voice traffic over other data traffic. They ensure that call quality stays up regardless of what other network requests are being processed. Can you imagine cable modems that intelligently prioritize YouTube videos, Google Voice calls, and other activities in the Googleverse?
I’m not saying any of this was the main motivation for Google to buy Motorola Mobility. The main motivation is phones, tablets and mobile domination. Still, I can’t imagine there aren’t smart Googlers figuring out how to maximize the impact of the other piece of the pie they’ve just bought.