Can the Motorola X Beat Out Samsung and Apple?

Can the Motorola X Beat Out Samsung and Apple?

Later this week the folks at Motorola will finally unveil the Motorola X, a device that has been in the rumor mill for what feels like at least a year now. It probably feels that long, because it has been quite some time since Motorola released a device that captured the market’s attention. After a great run to kick off Android’s glory days, Motorola has taken quite the slide backwards.

Three years ago, it seemed as though Motorola might be hitting its stride. It released the Droid 2, with the then-popular slide-out QWERTY keyboard, plus the large-sized Droid X. While the Droid 2 did fulfill that market segment that hates typing on virtual keyboards — thereby swiping at least a few potential iPhone 4 customers — the Droid X was a bit ahead of its time. It was full of bugs, for one. It also seems that people just weren’t ready for big screens at that point. (After all, they were still fixated on slide-out keyboards.)

A sense of complacency seemed to seep in at that point. The Droid Charge was no big release. The Droid X2 and the Droid 3 generated very little buzz, because they essentially reinvented the wheel. By the time the Droid Bionic came out Samsung had already wowed the market with the second iteration of its Galaxy S series. Motorola’s big play was to reintroduce the Razr brand, and while the phones themselves weren’t that bad they just didn’t compare to the slew of phones that Samsung was releasing at the time.

So can the Motorola X succeed where its predecessors have failed? There are a few reasons why that’s possible.

Google ownership

If you follow Android, you’ve followed Motorola following Google’s acquisition. To date the search giant hasn’t done much in terms of hardware with Motorola; in fact, there have been few new hardware initiatives from Motorola since the acquisition became official last year. They’ve released a couple of new RAZR devices, and have announced a few DROID-branded devices, but that’s about it.

To believe Google is to believe that they won’t use Motorola to promote their own hardware over competitors. Perhaps playing into that, Google has started to offer unlocked, stock Android versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One through its own store. But those might have been calculated moves to show solidarity with fellow Android equipment manufacturers. There seems to be no good reason for Google to not take advantage of owning its own hardware division.

While Google might not cut out its competitors directly, it certainly can leverage Motorola. As FierceWireless’s Phil Goldstein puts it:

The phones likely won’t catapult Motorola back into the handset powerhouse it once was, but I do think the Moto X and its sister devices will help Google promulgate its mission through Android, which is primarily to give more people access to the Internet so that Google can sell its services and advertising to them.

Unsurprisingly, Google will offer the Motorola X with stock Android, which is one way to leverage its own power. Goldstein hits on another important point. Google’s ownership will certainly lend new weight to the Motorola X.

Timing

As Motorola has made clear, they will unveil the Motorola X on August 1. While there have been false rumors flying about the latest iPhone, there hasn’t been any solid information about the release date. Suffice it to say, though, that they probably won’t get the iPhone 5S out within a month of the Motorola X. If people can see one device, and still have no reliable rumors about another, they could well go with the one that’s in front of them.

Whatever the case for the new iPhone, it appears that Apple announced most of the new goodies at WWDC earlier this year. That is, the changes in iOS likely account for the majority of the changes in the iPhone 5S. This is probably a point for Android in the Android vs. iPhone struggle, since Apple announced essentially nothing that Android doesn’t already offer. So while it might have retained some of its own users and enticed some who don’t fully understand their Android smartphones, the core of Android will likely stay put.

This isn’t to say that the X will beat out Apple in any significant category. It’s fairly clear that the iPhone is the single most popular smartphone on the market, while Android’s power comes from its popularity spread across multiple handsets. The X, however, could provide yet another device that sells incredibly well. If it can even approach sales of the Galaxy S4, Android will then have two veritable powerhouses on its hands. That should help stiffen the competition with Apple.

Timing does seem to be everything here. The timing of Google’s acquisition of Motorola allowed it take a step back, assess the situation, and act accordingly. The timing of the release means that Apple is the one that has to impress to an even greater degree. But seeing as they’ve likely already announced the biggest upgrades for the new iPhone, the new iOS, can they really bring the necessary firepower in late August or September when they announce the iPhone 5S?

We should have an interesting month coming up.

Joe Pawlikowski

Joe Pawlikowski edits MobileMoo, a site that covers the mobile technology industry.

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