What other OEMs can learn from Motorola

Motorola recently unveiled the Moto G, initially rumoured to be a "cheaper" version of the Moto X for the international market. And while it is less powerful than the Moto X, and significantly cheaper, it's not really a poor man's Moto X, no it isn't. If you ask me, the Moto G is Motorola's effort to redefine the mid-range smartphone market, the same way the Moto X was intended to redefine what we call a "high-end" flagship. As was mentioned at the event, consumers looking for a smartphone but who can't (or won't) spend the high amounts of money a flagship demands are restricted to two poor options; buy a new but cheap phone with outdated hardware (and possibly software), or buy an outdated flagship, which usually are still quite expensive. The Moto G aims to solve this problem by offering a phone that is both highly affordable, while at the same time highly respectable on paper. Motorola's approach to hardware and software, and their overall philosophy since being acquired by Google has wowed me. To the extent that I think the major Android OEMs could learn a thing or two from the creator of mobile phones.

You don't need the best specs to have a great smartphone experience
I've talked about this in the past, the spec wars in the Android ecosystem is getting to a point where it's just pointless. Our smartphones are incredibly capable devices, so much so that we take them for granted. Despite having crazy high resolution screens, we still have people complaining that some screens are not "good enough" for example. The processors in smartphones are beyond capable for powering our daily activities. Checking e-mail, browsing the web, updating our status on social media, taking pictures, playing a few games, listening to music, how much faster do we need our devices to be for these activities? Any improvement in speed will just be in milliseconds. Barely even noticeable. We have camera's in our phones! Who would've thought that would even be possible 10 years ago? And yet we have people complaining that smartphone cameras are not good enough. Motorola know how specs are less important now, and that even "mid-range" internals are good enough for a great user experience. All you need to do is read a few reviews and editorials by veterans in the mobile space, and you'll know just how right Motorola was with this approach. I have yet to see any respectable author say the Moto X is a bad phone. And it's something I think OEMs should take note of.
The Moto X is an attempt to redefine what we call a high-end flagship. Image: Digital Trends
Software optimisation is more important than software features
Do you know why some Android devices lag from time to time? It's not because the hardware is incapable, it's because the software of these phones is poorly optimised. Not to bash on Samsung, but with the amount of horsepower in their latest devices, lag should be non-existent. But that's not the case. Despite having some of the best hardware, Galaxy devices still lag, even if only in certain apps. Look at this video which shows how bad the lag is in Samsung's My Magazine app, on the latest and most powerful Galaxy devices, the Note 3 and Note 10.1 2014.


If Samsung couldn't get the app to perform well, they should've just left it out. Instead, users are stuck with a software feature that is poorly optimised, and will probably not use too often. The Moto X is extremely light on the software features. Touchless Controls and Active Display are pretty much the only selling points of the phone's software, but they work great. Other OEMs need to focus more on optimising their software, instead of cramming as many features as they can, and this is something Samsung have acknowledged.

OEM skins should be extensions of Android, not masks
A lot has been said of Android skins, you either love them or hate them. I personally think they add great value to Android, in certain cases. But one thing I dislike about all Android skins, is how much they cover up Android. Sony is not so guilty here, definitely not as much as Samsung and LG. But still, compared to Motorola's skin on the Moto X and Moto G, these other OEM skins look pretty much nothing like Android. I remember one guy even posted on Google+, asking what skin of Android was on his Nexus 4, because it didn't look like Android on his Galaxy device. True story. I'm all for wanting to differentiate their products and wanting a look of their own, but OEMs don't need to deviate so far off the track. I bet this is probably a reason why Android updates take so long. If OEM skins act as extensions of Android (like on the Moto devices) instead of completely covering it up, not only could performance improve, but updates could probably be pushed much much sooner as well.

EDIT 20/11/2013: Like I said, skins that are merely extensions of Android are easier to update. Motorola are rolling out KitKat for the Moto X, just 3 weeks after it was released. I wonder how long it will take Samsung to push KitKat on Galaxy devices.

OEM services should complement Google services, not compete with them
I'll share with you a quote from the Moto G event and an image for this point, as I think they get the point across quite well. 

"In today's ecosystem, mobile manufacturers have a very confused relationship with Android. They build on top of it then add all of these custom skins, which detract from the user experience and hog resources. Then, they go ahead and put duplicate of software on top of it, which basically competes with Google mobile services and you have a situation where you'll have home screens with multiple mail apps, multiple app stores, multiple video players and music players. The result of all of this, is you have devices with very non intuitive cluttered user interfaces with apps that actually slow it down and make it worse than they need to be, the phone much slower than it needs to be."

+Punit Soni - Software Product Management, Motorola Mobility

Samsung apps that compete with Google apps. Image: Google+
Treat mid-range consumers fairly, not as second class consumers
Like I said in my intro, if you are in the mid-range category of consumers, you are usually restricted to either buying outdated flagships, or poor mid-range phones, which are usually overpriced anyway. The Moto G aims to change that situation by offering a very decent smartphone for a very, very affordable price. $200 for the 16GB model is just crazy. For comparison purposes, the S4 mini and HTC One mini are around $500, and spec wise, the Moto G is equal, if not better in most cases. The Moto G has a 720p display and is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, similar to the One mini but much better than the 960x540 display on the S4 mini, which is protected by last year's Gorilla Glass 2. All three have a Snapdragon 400 SoC, but only the Moto G has a quad-core chip, the other two have a dual-core. RAM on the Moto G is 1GB, same as the One mini and only slightly less than the 1.5GB RAM on the S4 mini. The Moto G has a larger battery than both the mini's. It has a 5MP camera, not as good as the S4 Mini, and is probably the only weak spot of the phone. Despite besting the competition in almost every category, it is still more than 50% cheaper. Motorola really meant it when they said they want to give a high-end smartphone experience to people who can't afford a high-end smartphone, or even a more "affordable" mini. And I like that it's called the Moto G, and not the Moto X mini. The "mini" name sounds, disrespectful in a way. As if to say to the consumer "Oh, you can't afford our flagship? Here, have a mini version of it!"
The Moto G effectively put these two phones out of business. Image: Phone Arena
Motorola are trying their best to redefine the smartphone market, and I applaud them for it. I wont be getting the Moto G because I'm not in the target demographic, but I will be recommending it to friends who ask for an affordable smartphone. It is by far, the best in the market. Other OEMs need to take note of what Motorola is doing. Motorola may not have the market share or mind share of its competitors, but they do know the mobile market better than anyone, and if they are going against the flow, you better believe it's for a good reason.

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