Tech Tuesday

Google Buys Motorola…And Other Tech Stuff

Move by major search engine firm to own handset maker sparks plenty of conversation.

There was a time when the Motorola name was huge. The Razr phone became the ultimate flip phone and a lot of us had them. I know I really liked mine. Yet times change and the advent of the smart phone – specifically the iPhone – turned the tables on a lot of companies.

Motorola and Nokia were casualties of the success of the iPhone and as handset-only makers they were at the mercy of a market that suddenly didn't want their devices. A few months ago Motorola – a huge company involved in a lot of high-tech industries – spun off its cell phone business into Motorola Mobility. That division didn't sit on its laurels. The Motorola Droid phone has been a popular device as has its succeeding models – each using the Google Android operating system. In addition, Motorola is on the market with the first big competitor to the Apple iPad with its Xoom tablet.

Not they'll have no choice. This week Google announced it was buying Motorola Mobility for the tidy sum of $12.5 billion. The move may be bad news for Samsung and HTC, two major suppliers of Android handsets. Although Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, told an investor call yesterday that he had been encouraged by other handset makers to buy Motorola. Not sure how true that is (doesn't make sense to me).

However, it does mean that the big machine that Apple has built that can simply issue new devices and have consumers lining up could be facing extensive competition - once the regulators approve the purchase.

We'll see, tech prognosticators have issued warnings of new competition for Apple before – OK like every week - and consumers keep buying (as an iPad and iPhone owner I understand why). For you Android fans out there - who tell me that it's cheaper to own an Android because the phones are less expensive and you're not tied to iTunes - just consider what this Google purchase might mean in that regard.

Finally, one tech expert I heard talk about this yesterday noted that the Google move could drive Microsoft to acquire a handset maker just to maintain a solid position in the market. Windows Mobile 7 has not gained the market share many thought, even with its interesting approach to smart phone software design. That remains to be seen.

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger Talks

Regulators, proponents and opponents of the merger of these two mobile networks keep wrangling about a lot of issues. There's the worry that this merger will block something that could hurt someone else. Frankly, I don't see a downside. The larger GSM-based combined company would help expand the network and fill in gaps - though T-Mobile had its share of huge gaps in the country.

It always surprises me how regulators can be looking at one issue and not pay attention to another. Over the past five years while everyone has watched Verizon and AT&T battle it out for market share and network space, no one has been watch US Cellular which now covers more than half the country and has been very highly rated for customer service by Consumer Reports. For those in Iowa - for example - that are US Cellular customers they're getting excellent 3G coverage and service. Just an observation from the field.

And another note on that issue - the cross-network issues in this country make using a cell phone harder than it should be. Anywhere else in the world and you can roam as you like, because all the companies are on the same kind of network. In this country, Verizon phones can't use the AT&T network and heaven only knows what US Cellular is using. In essence, if they all had the same backbone your phone would work better. But let competition reign - and you pick the phone you like.

Covering the Country

Had the chance to be at President Obama's Cannon Falls, Minn., event this week where he talked up his Administration's commitment to broadband (as if the Bush administration had never invested in that through USDA Rural Development). But what struck me was his comment that the goal was to cover at least 98% of the country with high-speed data service. Just want to note that agriculture represents 2% of the population - want to do the math on what part the 98% won't cover?

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