Google’s takeover of Motorola’s mobile phone operations may strengthen its hold on the master switch of the Internet, to the detriment of all users.
The Cycle: Open then closed
Communications technologies before the Internet have gone through an open founding phase and then become closed. One company or a select few have been then able to have their hand on the master switch, Tim Wu argues in The Master Switch.
Some have tried to grab the master switch of the Internet in the past. All failed. The biggest failure was the AOL Time Warner merger in 2000. For some it seemed a natural winner: the then most successful Internet service firm and a large owner of content. It was not to be. The neutrality of the Internet towards the content it carried slayed the hopes of the venture, Wu argues.
Google: the switch
Yet there is a real switch on the Internet: Google. Wu calls it just that. We get what we are given from all the chaos of the Internet on formatted pages of search results. And Google’s real strength is that it specialises in search. All of the other things Google does are just trial balloons, ways of enhancing the real business of search.
More than a balloon
So what does Motorola’s mobile devices have to do with this specialisation? Another hand close to the master switch is Apple with its carefully selected, closed architecture iDevices. And one of the balloons which Google floated was its operating system for mobile devices, Android.
Is it any surprise that the Google bid comes in the same month in which Apple became the largest company in the US by its share price as a result of its iDevices success?
The outcome is a titanic battle for the master switch, replicating the battles for the master switch for telegraph, telephone, radio and TV.
Google’s management style
My bet is Google can’t run Motorola’s mobile device operations successfully. Its very flexibility and lack of vertical integration, such a success in the world of search, may prove a disaster in the hard-bitten world of mobile device design and manufacture.
Google may have the cash to make the deal: but I doubt it has the management culture to make it work. The better for us users if it stuck to its specialisation, search. Because if Google does have the management expertise to run the operation, its hand is ever closer to the master switch which Wu fears.