The new device, introduced at a press event in New York, comes with a 4.7-inch display and a feature where a simple twist of the wrist activates the camera. It’s also accompanied by massive expectations for a company that’s weathered many painful restructurings and predictions of its demise. While the Libertyville-based company introduced last week three new smartphones for Verizon Wireless’ Droid line, the Moto X represents the “culmination of this new year for Motorola as a subsidiary of Google,” Motorola Chief Executive Dennis Woodside told the Tribune in an interview.
"It's the first device that was built really from scratch -- literally from a whiteboard -- post Google’s acquisition of Motorola," Woodside said. "We really spent the last year retooling the company to become much more focused…really getting Motorola back to its roots of innovation."
One of the defining characteristics of Moto X is its ability to be customized. Some of this is aesthetic, as consumers can choose from a palette of colors for the phone’s back plate, front plate and other hardware parts. The company said more than 2,000 combinations are possible. Woodside said consumers like choices and pointed to fashion, such as the NikeiD program that allows people to design their own shoes, as an example.
The customization is woven throughout the Moto X’s hardware and software. The device responds to voice commands without draining a lot of battery and is integrated with Google Now, a personal assistant feature that understands natural language. It can answer questions and provide recommendations. This technology is also present on the new Droid phones released for Verizon last week.
"Google invented the self-driving car," Woodside said. 'You can think of the Moto X as a self-driving phone."
The industry will be closely watching the Moto X as a gauge of whether Google has successfully reshaped Motorola into a maker of cutting-edge mobile technology. The company has substantial ground to reclaim before it even makes a dent in worldwide smartphone shipments, which are dominated by Apple and Samsung. According to data tracker IDC, Motorola’s second-quarter market share is 1 percent or less. During the same period, IDC measured Samsung’s market share at 30.4 percent and Apple at 13.1 percent.
"We’re going to have to be scrappier," Woodside said. "We have very large competitors that have a lot of resources out there."
Of course, Google is putting plenty of muscle behind the Moto X, which will be available at five major U.S. carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular. This marks a significant change from recent years, when Motorola mostly developed exclusive devices for operator partners. The Moto X will cost $199 with a two-year contract.
In another industry milestone, the Moto X will be assembled at a facility in Texas. Motorola said it is the first smartphone assembled in the U.S. and the proximity allows consumers to get their highly customized phones within a few days of placing an order.
Woodside emphasized that the Moto X is the first in a series of products, to be introduced over the next year, that demonstrate Motorola’s post-Google capabilities. While the subsidiary remains a drag on Google’s earnings, Woodside said costs for the business are falling significantly and Google is on track with its turnaround plan.
"The intention is not to be a drain on Google," Woodside said. "We've gone through a number of very painful changes to the shape of the business. We’ve had to let people go. That's behind us."
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