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Summary:

With so many different Android phone models comes a wide variance in hardware, software and design, so a single Android phone can’t compete against the iPhone. Or can it? We may find out with Moto X: Google’s Android phone for the masses.

Google’s original vision of expanding mobile web access through Android is certainly working but it’s about to get even more successful. Why should it have thousands of different Android models from hardware partners when Google owns a handset maker in Motorola? A single model for the masses can boost both Android adoption and usage: The Moto X phone now looks to be that device.

Motorola Moto X adThe Moto X handset is expected to arrive on Thursday, ending what may be the worst kept Motorola secret to date. Amid weeks of leaked information and images, we have a pretty good idea of what the phone will look like. And on paper, it hasn’t sounded too innovative, leading me to think that Google’s strategy for the Moto X isn’t very clear.

After seeing the latest Moto Droid phones last week, however, I’ve been rethinking my viewpoint: Just as the iPhone appeals to the masses, Moto X will be Google’s Android phone for the average person. If I’m right, Moto X will give Android its own iPhone moment of sorts.

When can you get the phone?

Apple does many things right with its iPhone and not all of them are about the device itself. Aside from great marketing, Apple often launches new iPhone models after it has already ramped up production for them, thanks to its mastery of the supply chain and forward-thinking component deals signed years ago. That means you can often order or even get your hands on the newest device immediately after the handset is introduced. I can’t think of many times in the Android world that’s been the case.

Moto X covers

I’m anticipating that Motorola will quickly make the Moto X available to interested buyers; perhaps even this week. Motorola has been touting that the phone is being made in the U.S. — manufacturing is taking place in an old Nokia factory in Texas — so it should be able to deliver the product quickly. Even more so if it has already begun producing the device. It’s likely you can customize one with a colored back plate or engraving but that won’t take long if the base handsets are sitting in Texas, ready to ship.

You won’t be limited by your carrier choice

Evidence suggests that like the iPhone, all four of the major U.S. carriers will support the Moto X handset. That also includes U.S. Cellular and Ting, the MVNO that works with Sprint’s network. If the handset is available for the big four, it should also find its way to other MVNOs since they all use networks from the same carrier. In that case, you could always buy the phone and bring it a pre-paid carrier.

If that’s true, the Moto X will have the same widespread availability as Apple’s iPhone. Perhaps even more so as the iPhone isn’t supported on every MVNO network today. This means the terrible situation of wanting a particular phone but having to wait and see when — or if — your carrier will offer it won’t apply to the Moto X.

One size fits all when it comes to accessories

A frustrating aspect of Android as a whole is a lack of accessories. Sure, each manufacturer typically offers their own cases, docks and such, but with nearly 12,000 different Android handset models in the wild, universal accessories aren’t possible. With just a few iPhone models using standard connectors in the same place on the hardware, you have a nearly limitless amount of accessory choices.

Moto X could offer the same; something Google hasn’t even been able to do with its Nexus line of phones. With the same model Moto X available on every carrier and then some, a standard line of accessories could be made available. And Motorola has years of experience in that regard: It has offered batteries, headsets, cases, docks and more for its phone lineup. In fact, at last week’s Motorola Droid Ultra event, the company was showing off nearly a half a dozen such accessories, ranging from cases to wireless speakers with NFC pairing capabilities.

Nexus is still around, but Moto X is Google’s bigger play

Originally, the Nexus line of phones was meant to show handset makers how to push the envelope both with hardware and software. But that’s changed now. On its own, Google can’t compete with the high-end flagships designed by Samsung, HTC, LG and others. How can it when those same companies design and build the Nexus devices? That’s where Motorola comes in.

Nexus 4 in hand

Now that it owns a hardware company, Google can push forward its own vision of an Android handset. And it can do so without competing directly against the flagship phones of its hardware partners. By limiting the Moto X to mid-range components, its more of an indirect competition against the Galaxy S 4 or HTC One.

Mid-range hardware may not mean mid-range performance and features

As much as Apple has pushed its iPhone hardware forward, it hasn’t always been cutting edge. Think back to the original handset with its 2G connection, for example. Or the “retina display” screen that doesn’t offer full HD video support in its native resolution. Obviously, things like this haven’t hurt iPhone sales: People still want the phone because it can do nearly everything they want or need it to do. Ultimately, smartphones aren’t just about hardware.

That will be evident with the new Moto X assuming the leaked specifications are accurate. Nope, it won’t have a full HD screen; expect a 720p display. It’s not going to use Qualcomm’s fastest smartphone chip like some upcoming devices will; look for a Motorola-optimized product based on last year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon. Here’s the thing: It will likely perform adequately or better for most people.

New Droid Ultra

I’m basing that thought on the little bit of time I spent with the Droid Ultra lineup. These phones too had 720p displays, but you could have fooled me: They looked super crisp to my eyes which thought they were seeing a 1080p screen. Using 2 GB of memory with the Motorola X8 chip — again: an optimized Snapdragon — kept the handsets moving along very quickly. And the 10 megapixel camera sensors appeared to provide reasonably good images and video.

Moto X will have the best of Android at a reasonable price

So what if Moto X offers decent performance: Don’t many Android phones do that? Sure they do, but I can think of two initial differences that will broaden interest in the Moto X: Price and features.

Given the expected hardware in the Moto X, this isn’t a phone that’s likely going to retail for $600 or more at full price. Instead, I think we’re looking at $300 or so. That means you’d be able to purchase one without contract for a reasonable cost or you can buy one with a carrier contract for perhaps nothing. Even If the full price is $400, which sounds high to me, a subsidized cost would still be $99 or less. With that kind of pricing you can advertise Moto X as affordable for anyone in the U.S.

But you’re not getting just a cheap Android phone. You’ll get a solid performer with the latest version of Android and then some. I’m talking about how the phone will take better advantage of its sensors so it can take automatic action in certain instances. Think of the light sensor that tells the phone its in your pocket so perhaps the ringer volume is automatically adjusted up. Or the “always on” microphone and natural language processor that listens for your commands: We saw this in the Droid Ultras and it brings an advanced Google Glass-like interface experience to a mid-range device.

Will Moto X be the Android for everyone?

I can’t yet say how much success the Moto X will see; I’ll have more thoughts on that after I attend the Moto X event. But I can say that the strategy is now much clearer to me than it was last month. When Motorola called the device a “flagship” phone, I was scratching my head. Nothing about it screamed “flagship” to me; at least not on paper.

Often, however, a product is better than the sum total of its individual parts. Apple’s iPhone is a perfect example of that. And if the Moto X is what I think it is, it may be a shining second example as the de-facto Android phone that Google wants in every hand. That brings us back to the original intent of Android: A defensive play against the iPhone to reap user information and boost Google revenues though mobile ads.

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  1. Great article, Kevin. Looking forward to the X announcement.

  2. hahahaha… too funny. Wishful thinking.

    1. hahahahahhahahahah.

      But what if it’s true?

  3. I agree with the part about Moto being good at producing accessories, but other than that I don’t see the advantage this phone offers over other mid-level Android phones. I’m just not seeing what will cause consumers to flock to this phone like a new iPhone.

    1. I’d say, over other mid level phones, it would have timely updates, google support, easy integration with ‘wearables’, HTC One-esque looks (though not quite that nice). Not to mention customisation. To me and you, that’s likely inconsequential. To a gift buying parent? An ‘individual’ teenager?

      Moreover, they’re spending $500m on marketing. That s*** works! :-)

      1. I wouldn’t assume a Moto device will have timely updates until Moto has a record of timely updates. This isn’t a Nexus device.

        1. But it is the first Moto device with Google’s input. Google’s going all out on the X, and as the Moto X is Google’s attempt to win back the Android brand from Samsung, it really is too big to fail. Expect them to push the advantages of being a Google phone, such as timely updates, as a superiority over the competition.
          Also, in response to your original post, customizable looks are pretty great. Made in America is also something that can’t be said by any other phone. The sure-to-be incredibly low price for something that will be branded as a Motorola-Google phone will also seem attractive and reliable. Don’t count it out just yet ;)

          1. Google doesn’t need to “win back” Android, Google owns Android.

            1. I think by “win back” he means to get control of the revenue streams. Surely you agree that Samsung has profited by far the most from Android, while Google has gotten a pitiable amount relatively (just licensing and ads – and that too open source most of the licenses).

              By promoting Moto X as the flagship Android phone, Google will not be dependant on other manufacturers in many ways (free to experiment, direct revenue with no cuts). So it is a big win for Google if it works. I expect that it will.

          2. Other than these touted features, rest of the phone seems to be stock android and that clearly shows that Moto will be a fast follower of Nexus for upgrades.

        2. But, Google now owns Motorola so they can push updates to the devices in a timely manner.

          1. Google bought Moto in 2012. If they were interested in pushing updates faster on Moto phones, they wouldn’t need to wait until a new phone came out. They could have done that with existing stock. I don’t recall that happening (but I might not have noticed).

            1. Not sure that is true. The existing stock of Motorola devices would have required dedicating resources to support devices that doesn’t really do the company any good. With the changes in Google Play Services and the changes to the how Android itself is supported on hardware (i.e. how standard Android is coming to more ‘flagship’ devices, it is likely that we’re starting to see a very fundamental change in how Android is distributed for the new generation of devices. Not a lot of value trying to go back and support the old stack – a feeling that I have about their ludicrous attempts to backport everything to Android 2.3.

            2. Yes, probably you didn’t notice but as far as I know almost their entire line-up got JB upgrades as early as Nov 2012 (deprecating old Motorola skins/BLUR etc) and Droid Razr line-up followed it up in Jan 2013. It would be interesting to look at forums to confirm what % of their devices are lagging in major upgrades though I am going to guess that they are ahead of other OEMs at this time.

  4. Interesting however you should probably note that iPhones haven’t been released as mid range performers. They are almost always consistently specced higher than any other phone on the market at release, and even when not specced higher, the phones still outperform competitors.

    While releasing on all 4 carriers may be of interest in the US, until Google/Moto have a solid worldwide release schedule it’s still just window dressing to me.

    I’m still interested to see what happens with this phone, but the closer we get to release, the more the media ballyhoo seems trite.

    1. I agree iPhones are not released as mid-range phones, however, the most current iPhone does not have NFC. The prior version did not have 4G. The days are past when the iPhone is the most advanced phone.

    2. While iPhones aren’t released as “midrange” phones, they have always had less powerful processors and less RAM than their Android counterparts. However, thanks to tight software/hardware integration and a high level of optimization, they have always had a snappy interface and good performance. Hopefully the Moto X will do the same thing. It’s not being “released as a mid-range performer.” Motorola has never marketed it as midrange; in fact they have called it a flagship. I think it will perform as well as any of the current flagship Android phones…probably BETTER than the Galaxy S4.

      1. maybe, but even if X does not perform better than S4, its worth to buy for the cheaper price

    3. I disagree. I upgrade my cell phone every few months and I would like to buy an iPhone but the specs just aren’t as good. I research the specs and the android phones always have one or two models better than the current iPhone. My last 3 phones have been Samsung (no surprise there).

      I am disappointed in the specs I am seeing for the Moto X. Obviously, they aren’t official but is has a 2 core processor, 720p display and 16gb (12 usable). Doesn’t look like there are any “extras” like IR blaster, HDMI port, SIM slot, removable battery, etc. the battery is 2200 so it is good but not fabulous. This is a phone with one year old technology.

      With all that said, I may just buy it anyway. I suspect none of those things will truly make my experience horrible and I can put up with a few bad/missing features if the price is right. I’d pay $99 for this phone.

      HOWEVER, their NEXT phone better be FREAKIN FABULOUS if they want to beat Samsung.

  5. So it’s like the Nexus 4 with dual core instead of quad core at the same price? Sweet, I can’t wait to throw my money away on an underpowered American phone.

    1. It’s actually supposed to be $299 for 16 gigs, “supposedly”, which is 50 bucks cheaper than the Nexus 4. This is also gonna be a lot more sturdy, and there is also a 32 gig version. So, there’s that.

  6. So….it’s been impossible to offer standardized accessories because there are over 12,000 different Android phones out there, but by making it 12,001 we’ll change all that. Sure, that makes sense.

  7. “Moto X will be Google’s Android phone for the average person.”

    Never worked retail, eh, Kevin? Definitely not the way to sell a “smartphone”.

    1. I’m sure when people vote with their wallets (which tend to look at whats in them more than not), they will find this phone more than adequate for their needs. The treadmill of $600 super phones is already slowed drastically and never even got started overseas. For real growth and OS marketshare (which brings apps which bring customers which brings developer revenue – which brings apps) this is a very sound strategy.

      If the first sets of reviews IN THE STORE (its all about hipshare in the store) are positive, this device will move.

      1. Missed the point. You ain’t selling anyone anything by telling them they – and the device – are average.

        1. I agree with your thought but I don’t expect this to be an “average” phone. I expect better than average performance from average components, i.e.: more than a day battery life, advanced features that other phones don’t have, etc… Of course, that’s just a guess on my part until later today.

  8. This seems like a part of a very interesting strategy:

    1. Great phones , without need of subsidies , affordable to everyone.

    2. Open network – If you want to stream 720p content from you’re pc to the chromecast(a very appealing use case), you need a new 802.11N router(preferably not from cable companies). Most new routers have secure, comfortable options to freely share wifi.

    Even getting small fraction of users open their networks in dense urban areas, is good for achieving great coverage.

    3. Disruptive carriers – New phones are available to every wireless carrier , without preference, including say, republic wireless.

    It would be fun to watch how it goes.

    1. You can bet that Republic Wireless will have the Moto X. Probably in early October.

  9. Are Motorola’s Moto X designers retarded? If you want to be successful, design a damn sexy phone like the iPhone and Galaxy S4. Performance comes in second. Moto X doesn’t have either. Good luck, they’ll propably sell 3 a day.

    1. at least it looks better than S4

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