A Hole in Google’s Secret Plan?

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Google’s Android. World domination, in pastel shades.

After much hype and hubbub about Google’s Moto X phone, Google turned around and agreed to sell its Motorola Mobility unit to Lenovo, the rising Chinese computer maker. The planned $2.91 billion sale feels like a bit of letdown after the commotion (and generally positive reviews) of Google’s phones.

When Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2012 for $12.4 billion, most speculation at the time centered on the value to Google of Motorola’s patent portfolio. Motorola’s 17,000 patents were seen as protection for Google’s Android operating system in the face of similarly well-armed competitors. Google will retain most of the patents in this deal.

It was assumed then that the patents were by far the most valuable parts of the deal for Google. Somewhere along the way, though, it started to seem like Google’s secret plan for Motorola was not to marshal its patents but … well, to make and sell phones. Wired Steven Levy posited that the Moto phones would be the “gateway drug” for Google’s entire software ecosystem.

So much for that. Google may be selling Motorola now for any one of a number of reasons — or all of them. It may be that, as as Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone points out , Google’s Android partners didn’t love the idea of competing with Google hardware. Or maybe that it just didn’t establish enough of a foothold in the market. Or Google may have been mainly interested in the patent portfolio after all. No matter which way you cut it, suddenly it does seem like even Google may not have its strategy for world domination totally thought out.

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