Smartphone hardware improves all the time. Displays become sharper. Screens grow larger. Processors become more powerful. We’re just about one dance-y beat away from living a technological version of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” (With fewer robotic DJs, of course.)
But hardware is also evolving quickly, powerfully, and — thanks to near-identical hardware, slowly-changing software, and a healthy dose of ennui — boringly. Which is why the Moto X’s comparably low resolution display, plastic casing, and otherwise so-so hardware is so interesting, rainbow-colored backplates be damned.
Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside, who joined the company after Google acquired it for $12.5 billion last year, has defended its decision to use middling hardware since before the Moto X was announced. “We made some different choices from our competitors. We were thinking about the total user experience,” he told AllThingsD. Both Wired and The Verge also note Motorola Mobility executives’ insistence that the Moto X’s specs hit the “sweet spot” and will allow the company to better serve consumers’ needs.
The Moto X isn’t about competing on hardware — it’s about developing software and hardware together to create an appealing device that can differentiate itself from the me-too smartphones released seemingly every week. And it’s doing so without the full backing of its parent company, which is said to have sequestered Motorola Mobility from the core Android team.
Google is careful to point out that Motorola Mobility is treated like any other hardware partner and is not given preferential treatment. (The company may even have been at a greater disadvantage than other manufacturers, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal alleging that Google’s Android team distanced itself from Motorola Mobility post-acquisition.) That the Moto X is so clearly a Google phone designed to offer easy access to some of the company’s most promising technologies, then, is remarkable.
Many of the Moto X’s best software features, including the new voice control system, the active notifications that display important information without requiring users to unlock the device, and the Assist feature borne from the Smart Actions built into Motorola Mobility’s Droid handsets, aren’t part of Android. The device offers easier access to Google Now than even the Nexus products Google co-develops with its hardware partners and, through the Assist feature, better shows what can be done with all of the sensors and software tricks available to modern smartphones.
This should come as a surprise to anyone who used a Motorola-built device prior to Google’s acquisition. The company used to ship Android devices that were barely recognizable as such, opting to include additional social features and interface tweaks instead of sticking to “vanilla” Android. Many of its products were released under the Droid product line better known for being produced by Motorola and Verizon than for using the Android operating system. (Motorola Mobility hasn’t stopped producing those devices, of course, but the Moto X is perhaps the first Motorola Mobility product clearly recognizable as an Android device.)
Those were the devices an independent Motorola made. Now a Google-owned Motorola Mobility, despite the distance between it and the rest of Google, has made the most Google- and Android-friendly smartphone without “Nexus” in its name, since the T-Mobile G1 launched in 2008.
[Image courtesy Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)]