Back in the ancient days of 2009, Motorola Mobility earned considerable buzz with its Droid smartphone. Marketed as an iPhone alternative, the device featured a sliding QWERTY keyboard and a chunky black body that seemed positively Schwarzenegger-esque in comparison to its svelte Apple rival.
But Motorola failed to translate that buzz into sustained momentum in the smartphone space. Instead, Samsung became the dominant Android smartphone manufacturer, battling toe-to-toe with Apple for market-share and profits. Even Google acquiring Motorola for the princely sum of $12.1 billion didn’t really seem to change the equation very much—Motorola continued to churn out Droid phones that struggled to stand out in a crowded marketplace, while Google seemed to devote the bulk of its marketing resources to its Nexus line of mobile devices.
Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside wants to change all that. In a May 29 talk at AllThingsD’s D11 conference, he told the audience that Motorola has a “hero phone” in the works, dubbed the Moto X—and that it’s self-aware. “It anticipates my needs,” he said, according to AllThingD’s live blog of the event.
But what does that actually mean? Thanks to embedded sensors, the phone knows when the user removes it from his or her pocket; in theory, that capability could serve broader applications, such as the phone recognizing where the user is located within a city and serving up content and applications accordingly. In fact, it sounds a bit like Google Now on steroids—or like the smartphone precursor to SkyNet, the supercomputer from the Terminator movies that’s so intelligent, it decides that the world would be better off if it ruled over humanity.
But Woodside didn’t offer much more about the Moto X; the device will be manufactured in Texas, which he claimed made it the first smartphone built in the United States.
“I think what we are trying to do is simply bring Motorola back to its roots,” Woodside announced at another point. And that’s all well and good, but if the company wants to evolve into more of an existential threat to Apple and Samsung, it will need to create products that actually stand out from current offerings on the market.
Woodside also suggested that Motorola has no access to the Android code, despite being a subsidiary of Google, and that any Google employees joining the company need to give up their Google badge. If that’s accurate, it seems that the search-engine giant is being very careful about not irritating its Android partners. Whether that ultimately becomes a negative for Motorola remains to be seen.