Google blows $1.1bn to hire HTC's Pixel people, forming one big happy handset team

HTC insists ad giant didn't scoop all its clever people and it can still make nice things

As rumoured since early September, Google has decided to splash out over a billion dollars and hire the HTC team that designs and builds its Pixel phones.

The ad giant's announcement stated "a team of HTC talent" that has "already been working with [Google] closely on the Pixel smartphone line" will join the company. Rick Osterloh, Google's senior veep for hardware, declared himself "excited to see what we can do together as one team".

HTC's version of the story is a little more defensive. It explained that even after letting Google hire what it described as "Pixel mobile phone design R&D talent", HTC "will still have excellent R&D personnel to develop their own brand of smartphones". It also said that shipping people to Google will let it "focus on its own brand of smartphone business, continuous implementation of streamlined product portfolio strategy to enhance operational efficiency and financial flexibility".

Neither party quite explained why moving the team from HTC to Google was necessary at this moment.

Osterloh came closest in his canned statement "It's still early days for Google's hardware business," he said, and offered some corp-speak on wanting to combine "the best of Google software – like the Google Assistant – with thoughtfully designed hardware". He praised HTC for having "created some of the most beautiful, high-end devices on the market" and hinted that future Pixels will be even more beautiful and high-end once the workers behind them have no other distractions.

Nobody mentioned Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired in 2011 with the intention of building its own handsets but then offloaded in 2014 without much success selling product but with a big patent trove to show for its efforts.

This time around HTC seems to do have done all right on the IP front, as the deal has given Google "a non-exclusive license for HTC intellectual property".

US$1.1bn will change hands to make this all happen, the companies said.

Google has clearly believed other Android-using handset-makers will only ever offer their customers a subset of its services and wants a pure-play Google phone it completely controls. That vision turned out not to be achievable with even a very tight partnership. Which Apple could have told it a decade ago, had Google cared to ask. ®

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