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August 2, 2013

Moto X: All About User Experience

After so much hype, many people were disappointed to see Motorola's first phone influenced by Google. Motorola was acquired by Google two years ago for $12.5 billion, but the real reason why Google bought Motorola wasn't clear. Motorola's patents weren't that useful, Motorola's market share is declining and the company continues to lose money every quarter.

source: Wired

Moto X is supposed to be Motorola's "hero" device, the flagship that shows the new direction of the company. More than 70 Google employees work at Motorola: from Motorola's new CEO, Dennis Woodside, to Steve Horowitz, Motorola's head of software and one of the original members of the Android team. "Nobody's buying products because of minor incremental improvements to Android. So let's rely on what the Android team does and build experiences that will leverage Google services," says Steve Horowitz.

Motorola's phones now use tweaked version of the stock Android. There are some changes, some new apps and some new versions of the stock apps, but they're added on top of the stock Android, so you'll see faster updates. Motorola not only uses Google's Android software, but it tries to create hardware that makes it easy to use Google's software and enhances its features.

Moto X is assembled in the US, in a former Nokia factory. "Motorola placed its entire assembly operation for the X in Fort Worth, Texas. Components come from 16 states and countries around the world, but 2,000 or so workers assemble the phones in Texas and ship them all over America," informs The Verge. Phones are personalized using an online service called Moto Maker, which lets you select the color of the backplate, the front and of the volume buttons, add a signature, pick some matching headphones and make the phone your own. In the future, you'll also be able to pick a different material: wood instead of plastic. At launch, Moto Maker will be limited to AT&T. Motorola will open it to the other US carriers in the near future: Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular.

"When a car company allows you to choose your interior details or Nike allows you to design your own shoes, it creates what Moto X head product manager Lior Ron calls 'the Ikea effect.' 'Once you finish assembling it, you're emotionally attached to that furniture,' Ron says. 'It's now yours. We see the same attachment here. You've basically gone through the process to build your phone - you are now emotionally attached to that phone.'"

The phone uses two low-power processors that are used by Moto X's most important features. Moto X is always listening, so you can say "ok google now" and then ask something. It's called touchless control and it always you to use your phone without having to touch it. The hotword feature is available in the Google Search app, but Moto X's hardware makes it more useful because you don't have to interact with the device first. There's also a gesture that quickly launches the camera app: just shake your wrist.

Moto X always shows the time and some notification icons. This feature works well because the phone has an AMOLED screen and black pixels are unlit, saving power.

So why are people disappointed? The phone doesn't have great specs: a 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED display, a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.7GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, 2200 mAh battery, 10 MP camera. So last year, you might say. A mid-range phone that costs the same as Samsung's Galaxy S4 or HTC One ($200 on contract for the 16GB version)? Non-removable battery and no SD card?

"We could go and make a higher-resolution screen, but it would just suck battery and nobody would know the difference," says Motorola's Jim Wicks. Most likely, Motorola couldn't source from Samsung a 1080p AMOLED screen and the 720p display was good enough. The dual-core CPU is cheaper, improves battery life and has a similar performance to the quad-core S4 Pro. It uses the same GPU from Nexus 4 and the new Nexus 7 and that's great. A phone is not about raw power, it's about responsiveness, battery life, ease of use. Most of the time, that raw power is left unused. Phones are more about GPU than CPU because responsiveness is more important than performance.

Moto X is not about specs, it's about experience and that's a lesson from the Apple school of thought. Specs are great, but only if they're actually used to build a great experience. A 400+ PPI 1080p screen and a quad-core CPU have their drawbacks and they're probably overkill. Apple's products don't use them, but they work well and are often more responsive than Android devices. The secret is probably software optimization and the integration between hardware and software.

"We've done additional optimizations on top of that such as optimizing the entire Linux user space to move it to an ARM instruction set, cache optimization, Dalvik just-in-time optimization, and we've changed the file system. It's full hardware-software integration to deliver best-in-class performance," says Iqbal Arshad, Motorola's senior vice president of engineering.

It's more about a high-end experience than high-end specs and that's hard to measure. People read the specs and assume that the phone with the fastest processor is the best one, but that's not always true. It's also about tricks that make the device appear more responsive than it really is, tricks that conserve battery, animations that make the experience more pleasant, squeezing every bit of performance from the hardware.

Moto X tries win the specs wars by ignoring it and focusing on something else: the human factor. Patriotism, esthetics, customization, efficiency - all of these try to make the phone more appealing and less intimidating. It's a new Motorola and they're just getting started.

"The Moto X will go on sale in the United States at the end of August or the beginning of September for a suggested retail price of $199.99 to customers who sign a two-year contract at five of the biggest U.S. mobile network operators," informs Reuters.

Recommended articles: Wired, The Verge, PC Magazine, Fast Company.

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