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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.