Lots of pixels being spilt about Google selling off Motorola. I'll credit Gruber for linking to one of the two intelligent pieces I've seen on this so far, de la Merced's piece on DealBook:
Breaking down the admittedly messy math shows that Google didn’t exactly lose nearly $10 billion on the deal. Here are some back of the envelope calculations.
When Google bought Motorola, the hardware maker had about $3 billion in cash on hand and nearly $1 billion in tax credits. So that brings the original deal’s effective price down to about $8.5 billion.
Then, Google sold Motorola’s set-top box business to Arris for nearly $2.4 billion. That lowers the effective price to roughly $6.1 billion.
Now, Google is selling Motorola Mobility — primarily the handset business, along with a few patents — for $2.9 billion. So we’re at about $3.2 billion.
It’s worth noting a few more things. In a regulatory filing in 2012, Google disclosed that it valued Motorola’s overall “patents and developed technology” at about $5.5 billion.
I mean, heck, what did Google want? Patents. Got 'em. Maybe they're worth what they hoped, maybe (probably) not. But that's what Google paid for.
What else did they get? They got the cash and credit that came with Motorola. They got more cash for selling off the "set-top business". Now they're getting cash for the phone hardware side, which isn't Google's thing anyway, as, in the other sensible piece I've seen, Ben Thompson points out.
Thompson also guesses another billion+ benefit of Motorola's use as a bargaining chip with Samsung:
Google likely offered to get out of hardware if Samsung cross-licensed their patents and stopped pseudo-forking Android. Given Samsung’s dominant position in the Android ecosystem, the Motorola bargaining chip very well may have been worth several billion dollars.
This is, of course, the limitation of concocting an open source replacement to a dominant closed-source arena: Anyone can use your work to get a running start to compete with you. It's a brilliant leverage play to use open source -- like AOL did with Gecko just long enough to get Microsoft to license IE back to them more favorably.
But if Samsung forked Android, if they played software the way Google-Motorola was playing hardware, they'd create a dominant fork that threatens to eclipse Google. And that would mean that Samsung would be in a position to start moving the inertia of the baked-in Google provided services to someone else, like Apple has with Wolfram|Alpha and Siri or Yahoo and weather. Samsung could start making those same changes if they forked Android seriously enough.
Google is trying to commoditize the OS for services. Samsung is trying to commoditize the OS for hardware. They're a Reese's Cup where the peanut butter thinks it's better than the chocolate -- or vice versa. I'm not sure.
Regardless, when you use open source for your OS, you open yourself up to shake-downs. This is a complicated enough matter I'd have to deal with it in another post, but if Thompson's right, this was a billion dollar shake-down from Samsung, and I wonder how much silence the payment bought.
It's the enterprise, stupid
What else did Google get? I'd point out one more small benefit: They redirected Motorola's phone lineup. The now overplayed official Google post on this says:
[Motorola has] focused on building a smaller number of great (and great value) smartphones that consumers love. Both the Moto G and the Moto X are doing really well, and I’m very excited about the smartphone lineup for 2014.
(I should also say that I'm now past conceptually impressed with Google's reach, and now practically convinced of their power. How did I learn about their deal with Lenovo? Their blog. And that popped up a long time before I read it anywhere else. They controlled the message absolutely, from keeping it a secret to my first impressions once it was known. Scary.)
The key here is not that you can customize Moto X out the wahzoo. It's that the lineup is slim and trim and ready to be redesigned. It's like a Marlins' fire sale after winning a World Series, or the NFL franchise in DC after Schottenheimer cleared all their expensive players to get them under the cap, or when the Bulls trade for Andrew Bynum and immediately waive him, just to clear that salary space for rebuilding next year. Hey Lenovo, take these two quality phones wherever you want! We've already cleared the chaff. It's ready for you to shape as you will.
This is just business as usual folks. Again, you can argue that they didn't get their dollar's worth for the patents, but I don't think any of us armchair analysts have enough context to make that call.
What they have done is get and keep useful patents, sell off useless bits of their conquest, potentially head off a major fork of Android, and reroute the energy of a streamlined phone lineup right into the most competent enterprise hardware manufacturer and marketer in the business. Lenovo's poised to be the next Blackberry, and Google's positioned to have Android [sic!] running there.