So apparently on August 1, Motorola Mobility (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google) is going to reveal, in New York City, the much-debated Moto X, a smartphone which is supposed to be a significant departure in several ways. For Motorola, it’s Android without the Droid branding or the Verizon ties, which is a nontrivial shift from their positioning over the last few years (remember, Verizon’s “Droid” identity was the thing that was going to put the smack down on the AT&T/iPhone pairing. Then the Droid phones kinda sucked and the iPhone came to Verizon, while Samsung created the Galaxy cross-carrier branding and pretty much became the face of Android). For the mobile phone industry in general, it’s a return to American manufacturing, or at least American assembly, for the first time since Motorola had a 50% global share of all mobile phones. For Google, it’s their first self-produced Android device – the Nexus tablets were outsourced to Asus, the Nexus phones to HTC and then Samsung and then LG, and they own Motorola.
So, Google’s making a new Android phone in America themselves (well, themselves once removed) and not going through Verizon. What else do we know? Well, for one, it’s supposedly a mid-sized phone, under 5″ on the display as opposed to the shed loads of Android phones that have blasted through 5″ and are starting to push 6″ diagonal on-screen. Not gonna lie: a lot of that size growth was for the sake of including an ever-bigger battery, because power management is still the Achilles heel – hell, the Achilles lower torso – of Android telephony. And one of the things that’s specifically being talked up around the Moto X is its power management and battery life awareness.
But that’s not all – supposedly the phone will be “contextually aware” – know when you’re driving, know when it’s in a pocket, know when you’re voice-commanding it (a leaked video from Canadian carrier Rogers Wireless seems to bear this out). And apparently it’s being pitched as a “mid-range” device that will nevertheless compete directly with the likes of the Galaxy S4 or HTC One or iPhone 5 – from the looks of things, by eschewing the stat-sheet arms race that drives so much of Android phone development in favor of doing some truly innovative things with the gadget itself. There are rumblings that it will be possible to pick the thing up for $200…off-contract.
This, at last, is some serious innovation in the mobile space. Android was supposed to be a game-changing open-source OS for phones that would allow for all kinds of innovation – and in the end, its main effect has been to give back to carriers what little control Apple prised from them and give manufacturers a way to make dirt-cheap “good enough” devices for $0 with a contract…and, of course, to spare Samsung another round of R&D. For Google to take a hands-on approach – and to specifically target the mid-range and mass market with an inexpensive high-quality device – strongly suggests that they are done screwing around and want to demonstrate what Android is supposed to be capable of. No more chasing stats – this is about crafting a premium user experience, whether it’s comfort in the hand or drop-resistance or guaranteed all-day-all-night battery life, and at the same time pushing the envelope of what can be expected from a mobile phone.
This, at last, is where it really starts to get interesting.