Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility was all about the patents. Just as shopping at Prada is all about the necessity to own something that is black.
Many have theorized about the strategy behind blowing two years of Google's profits on a hardware operation. Some have even whispered mischievously that there may be no strategy at all, other than some vague pragmatic expediency and Microsoft-battling.
However, there has also emerged the notion that now Google can be like Apple--a company with its own hardware/software infrastructure that welcomes you into its warm bosom and keeps you there with untold varieties of emotional sustenance.
Perhaps the first problem with that idea is the emotional sustenance part.
Google is to emotional sustenance what Jessica Simpson is to opera. The company has always existed to impress--then please--engineers, with real people being a secondary market. Real people don't have to pay to use Google products. They don't have to really enjoy them. They just have to use them, so that Google can make money from the advertising.
Apple works the other way around. It looks at real people, how they live, how they try and how they suffer and attempts to bring a level of fascination, ease and emotional uplift through gadgets that become friends, toys and lifelines.
If Google suddenly wants to be like Apple, what does that mean? Does it mean that Android will now become a little more exclusive? Does it mean that its Motorola arm will produce beautiful Android phones for which people will pay an arm, a leg and a couple of days of their lives standing in line?
Google's lack of emotional equity, coupled with that of Motorola--a company that laughably tried to sell the world on the idea of Apple as Big Brother--means that if it created a total software/hardware infrastructure, it wouldn't currently be based on anything other than a rationality: price, perhaps.
More troubling than that, Google's experience doesn't stretch far into either hardware manufacture or getting people to buy things--an idea that is often subsumed under that tainted and troubling word "marketing."
So what kind of confidence should anyone have that a new Google infrastructure will capture anything more than a little attention and a lot of yawning from Cupertino?
However, Google fancies itself as having brains bigger than Mars. So why shouldn't we wonder that the company would prefer not to be like Apple, but to be post-Apple?
Apple needs people to pay good money for hardware. So why wouldn't Google consider a world in which the hardware is free?
Apple needs people to congregate around a very small number of designs--phones that are placed on altars, so that people can genuflect beneath them before touching them with respectful gingerness.
So why wouldn't Google march in the direction of allowing people to design their own phones, so that suddenly a Googorola phone is less the product of a brand and more an expression of the person who both created it and bought it?
Aiming to be like Apple feels unimaginative, almost depressive. Inspiring real people to think that there is a world beyond Apple--one that might be even better, even more original-- is something that ought to be Google's challenge.
I wonder if that might have crossed Larry Page's mind. Or is he really just so terribly excited to get his hands on such a fine portfolio of patents?