Since becoming part of Google in May 2012, Motorola has not released a “Google-inspired” Nexus phone, showcasing the latest Android OS. Motorola’s first new smartphone since the acquisition, the Moto X, has received criticism from techies who focus on specifications. And when you compare Moto X’s hardware specifications with Samsung’s Galaxy S4, HTC’s One, and LG’s Nexus 4, it seems like it is a premium product with less than perfect hardware. As can be seen in the table, Moto X does not have the latest Android 4.3; its processor only has 2 CPU cores; its storage is not the most generous; the pixel density is much less than Samsung’s 441 PPI and HTC’s 469, and it doesn’t have an astounding 13 Mpixel camera.
However, there are features in the Moto X that deserve recognition. Touchless control, the “OK Google now” command, is an enhancement of the existing “Google now” voice command embedded in Google Search on iOS and Android. To activate Google now, one needs to open the Google Search app, press the microphone, and start the command, which takes several seconds. Moto X users only need to say “OK Google now”, and then the device will follow the voice command; Moto X is always “listening”. The touchless control is implemented on the programmable DSP core in the Qualcomm processor. Since the function does not go through the CPU core, it ensures low power consumption even though Moto X is always on and listening.
Another feature in Moto X is Active Display, a function that provides users notification from various apps when the device is inactive. Users do not need to push the power button and go to the app; instead, the message can be previewed by pressing the notification icon which pops up on the display. The display will stay mostly dark except for the notification; Active Display enables alert distribution with low power consumption. Users can manage this function to be off or choose which apps will send notifications.
With the new OK Google Now and Active Display, Moto X enables fewer steps for users to search and get informed. In an acknowledgement of the fact that mobile phones are fashion items, consumers can also customize the device through shell colors, add accent colors, engraving, and wallpaper. These may not be huge innovations, but they do take the smartphone in new directions. However, the question remains as to why the Moto X is not a Nexus.
Handset manufacturers usually take 2 years build a new product, unless it is a refresh of an existing model. Also, it is in Google’s best interest to stay fair to all of its OS licensees. Giving Motorola a head start with the latest Android OS will jeopardize Google’s relationship with other brands; after all, there are multiple OS vendors happy to take some market share away from Android. Last and most importantly, Google acquired Motorola for its patent portfolio and not with the idea of vertically integrating its operations.