Looks like Motorola is being put to work after all. Months after Google’s John Lagerling told the New York Times that the Motorola acquisition was mainly about the company’s patent portfolio, the Wall Street Journal reports that the company is working on the mysteriously-monikered “X Phone.”
The Journal says that Motorola will be working on two types of products: The current crop of devices to be sold by carrier partners, like Verizon, and the X Phone, as well as a partner X tablet. Whether these devices would compete with Google’s Nexus line, the flagship Android devices Google has developed with partners like Samsung and LG, or will be the series’ next installment is unclear.
Details about the X Phone were scarce. Motorola and Google are said to have run into problems in the R&D process, namely with introducing new camera-focused software features and a flexible, more durable display. These issues were described to the Journal as “normal” and the X Phone is expected to ship next year.
Google has previously held the Motorola division at bay to avoid strife among other Android manufacturers, such as Samsung, HTC, LG, Sharp, Sony, and others. Though Motorola shipped the device that arguably started Android’s rise to dominance, the Droid, the company has ceded its position as king of the Android hill to Samsung.
That Google would spend $12.5 billion on a manufacturer and not capitalize on the opportunity to build a cohesive device has surprised those who hoped that the Motorola purchase would lead to a new, hardware-developing Google. Not developing hardware hasn’t hurt Google in the short-term, as its software is found on the two most popular mobile operating systems, but long-term it would make little sense to stay out of the hardware game.
Issues with the Nexus 4’s manufacturing offer the perfect example. Google and LG have been playing a game of “he said, she said” over shipment delays and blaming it on higher-than-expected demand, but Google’s reliance on an outside company to ship its flagship device looks a lot worse than it did a few days ago. A Motorola-built device places all of the blame on Google, but it also allows the company a self-reliance that can’t be found in its current arrangement.
Could the so-called X Phone tank? Absolutely. Does it mean that Motorola will suddenly shoot to the No. 1 spot in the Android shipment rankings? No. But it does mean that Google is applying itself to hardware and forging a sword to go along with its patent portfolio-built armor, and that’s exciting.
Google, like Apple, is one of the few companies to introduce one new device per product line each year. Other manufacturers, like HTC, push several different versions of each product line, saturating the market with near-identical devices and forcing obsolescence on devices that are supposedly meant to last for two years, minimum. There is no Nexus 10 Maxx 4G Pad – there’s the Nexus 10. Ditto for the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 7. (Hell, Google is so good at not flooding the market that the Nexus Q, its media-streaming device, hasn’t even been released yet.)
Which means that customers can purchase a Google device without having to worry about it being made obsolete in just a few months. Sure, other Android devices will still be released every other week, but Nexus – and, potentially, X – customers could be happy knowing that they’re using up-to-date stock Android, not some carrier and manufacturer-modified version of the mobile operating system.
An Android device with timely updates, shipping straight from Google instead of passing through third-party manufacturers, replete with Google Now and an unmodified version of Android? Yes, please.