updated 05:10 pm EST, Fri December 21, 2012
Motorola to take aim at Samsung, Apple with Google backing
Google-owned Motorola is said to be preparing a pair of flagship Android devices meant to take on both Apple and Samsung in the smartphone and tablet segments. The so-called "X phone" and "X tablet" are part of Google's plan for Motorola to return to prominence in order to ensure the continuing health Google's Android platform, which Samsung has come to dominate. The X phone is expected to debut some time next year, and Motorola would begin work on the X tablet after the phone is completed, according to sources.
The news comes courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, which cites sources familiar with the matter, who claim that the X devices are part of an ongoing restructuring at Motorola. That restructuring, underway since Google bought the struggling company in May, has involved significant job cuts as Google narrows the company's focus. Google recently sold Motorola's set-top box segment for $2.35 billion, another step in trimming aspects of Motorola's business.
The goal, sources say, is to sculpt Motorola into a manufacturer that can produce marquee hardware of the like that can take on Samsung and Apple. Motorola has also been narrowing the range of smartphones the company will produce. Its most recent models -- the Droid line sold by carrier partner Verizon -- constitute half of Motorola's primary focus; the X devices make up the other half.
Developing premium devices to take on the industry leaders has proved more challenging than perhaps Google expected, though. Motorola has encountered supply-chain management and manufacturing obstacles, which have caused the company to rethink some of its initial plans. Motorola had wanted improved camera features, bendable screens, and ceramic materials in order to differentiate its offerings; difficulties in integrating or producing each of those have caused delays.
Turning Motorola from a three percent market share footnote into a true contender is said be something of a major goal for Google, even though company officials have previously said that much of the company's value to Google lay in its patent portfolio.
Currently, Samsung is far and away the leader among Android device manufacturers, shipping 40.3 percent of Android-based phones last quarter and by some estimates pulling in more revenue from its Android-powered mobile division over the last three quarters than the entirety of Google's operating income. Privately, Google officials are reportedly wary of the possibility of Samsung deciding to fork a version of Android and remove the features that tie it to Google's ecosystem, such as Amazon does with its Kindle Fire line of devices. A strong Motorola with competitive premium devices could serve as a bulwark against such a likelihood.
At the same time, Google must walk a fine line with regard to Android, Motorola, and its other manufacturing partners. The search giant's purchase of Motorola set some of its partners on edge, as they do not wish to have to compete in the hardware sector against the company that supplies their main software component. Google has filled the upper ranks of Motorola's management with Google executives, but it does not give Motorola early access to Android builds as it does with Samsung and occasionally other partners.