It’s becoming increasingly clear that Motorola’s upcoming Moto X is not going to be the flagship device that many Android fans were hoping for. Ever since Android and Me suggested that the Vienamese handset leak from mid-March was actually an early version of what was then still known as the X Phone, the Nexarati have been in denial that such a…normal phone…could possibly represent the first major collaboration between Google and its expensive hardware acquisition.
The first ad for the Moto X did not hype its incredible capabilities or category-changing specs; rather it played up the phone’s humble domestic roots and supposed unprecedented customizability (recently reported in some detail by ABC). Indeed, multiple sources are pointing to a strictly mid-range feature set: sub-2GHz dual-core processor, modestly-sized (4.3-inch?) 720p display, base 1GB/16GB RAM/ROM (microSD-upgradeable), and a 10-megapixel primary camera. Motorola has been steeling us for some time now that the X would be about making a phone with the right fit, and even CEO Dennis Woodside, speaking at AllThingsD: D11, said that “One of the areas we think is really open for Motorola is building a low-cost, high quality market. Feature phones sell for $30; high-end smartphones cost $650. That gap won’t persist.”
Surely these specs, if indeed true, will be a disappointment to many enthusiasts hoping for — expecting, really — a flagship device. However, a handset that attacks the mid-range with innovative features and a high degree of personalization, may be able to achieve what many a would-be Galaxy S-killer has so far failed to do: slow down the Samsung juggernaut that is slowly turning the Korean giant into an OEM with vastly lopsided platform market share. And with that market share comes bargaining power, and the (remote) possibility — anathema to true Android purists — that the OS either splinters, or that Samsung packs up its bags and moves its whole operation over to Tizen.
Now picture a world with a $300, off-contract Moto X…heck, maybe they can push it down to $200, even. At that price point, the phone becomes free on contract very quickly — while still remaining affordable for the huge, non-subsidized world being flooded with mid-range, not-quite-a-Galaxy-S clones from market leader Samsung. In this world, Motorola might be able to sell a lot of a phone that can differentiate itself with clever features, near-stock-Android, and a marketing campaign that gains some traction. (The new logo and de-DROID-ificatication of the message seem to be a good start.)
A too-powerful Samsung is just as dangerous for the Android ecosystem as the Nokia near-monopoly is becoming for Windows Phone; when there are only scraps of market share left to fight over, many OEMs will decide to exit the marketplace. Those which do remain in the fold may see the platform proprietor gradually began tailoring the OS for the market leader’s needs, either strategically or through direct pressure. Google is smart enough to know that it can’t waltz right into the high end market and hope to unseat Samsung — Motorola just doesn’t have that kind of brand cachet, internationally. But it can start chipping away at the mid-range, winning over customers for future products which may indeed have the appeal of a Galaxy S or an HTC One.