Google and its Motorola Mobility subsidiary spent the past several weeks not-so-subtly priming the publicity pump for the Moto X, the new smartphone that’s supposed to distill all the search engine giant’s latest mobile-technology advances into one sleek package. Google chairman Eric Schmidt was seen posing with one; other executives hinted that something truly epic was in the pipeline.
Now the Moto X is here, and it’s a huge bet that people will flock to a smartphone that’s as hands-off as possible: voice commands will do everything from turn it on (“Okay Google Now”) to activate applications. A multiplicity of sensors allows the user to perform functions with a minimum of tapping and swiping; for example, merely twisting your wrist will activate the camera. With this focus on anticipating the user’s needs—and making everyday activities as seamless as possible—Google and Motorola are trying to put the “smart” in “smartphone.”
But is the Moto X an iPhone killer? That’s perhaps the wrong question. For one thing, Apple would never permit its customers to customize the iPhone in the same way that Motorola’s allowing for the Moto X—you can select all sorts of colors and custom details, making your device (relatively) unique. Second, the iPhone is already well-established in the marketplace, with a massive audience of diehard users; with the Moto X, Google and Motorola seem more interested in showing that they can build an enviable “hero” phone that can compete with anything else out there—the “iPhone killer” may come later, once the brand actually gets some traction.
More than anything, the Moto X exists to prove that Google Now—the voice-dependent application that drives much of the smartphone’s next-generation functionality— is the right direction for Google. If the phone proves a hit, Google is likely to double down on voice as the way of the smartphone future.
What’s also interesting about the Moto X is its reliance on “stock” Android as an operating system. Rather than introduce Android features totally unique to the phone, Google and Motorola have instead chosen to focus on how software and hardware bond together to deliver a seamless experience.
This is perhaps a wise choice, for several reasons. First, a massively improved Android exclusively for the Moto X may have alienated other Android manufacturers, which probably don’t appreciate Google making aggressive plays in the hardware space. Second, today’s killer apps are tomorrow’s has-beens; it’s better in the long run for Google to develop an overall quality experience, rather than pour its resources and marketing attention into cool features and apps that’ll be outdated (and copied by others) within six months.
In any case, time (and sales) will tell whether Google and Motorola have made the right decisions with the Moto X.