Moto X refines usability but otherwise is just another smartphone

Apple, Samsung, and HTC have already made the shift to meaningful incrementalism, but it's good to see Motorola join in

After a couple months' worth of teasing, the Moto X had its unveiling today. The device from Google's struggling Motorola Mobility division, whose Android devices have largely been middling and overshadowed by devices from even parent company Google, is supposed to show the rebirth of Motorola Mobility.

It doesn't.

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Much of what is gaining attenion about the Moto X is gimmickry: user-selectable covers when ordering, and assembly (but not manufacturing) in Texas.

What actually matters about the Moto X is its attention to usability refinements. For example, it has a special chip to keep listening for voice commands even when asleep so that you can use it truly hands-free in a car, not fumble to turn it on before issuing voice commands, as in the iPhone and in other Android smartphones. It also can show the time when asleep, similar to the concept YotaPhone device shown last year, but using the front screen. And it has a shake gesture to switch to the camera, so picture-taking is that much easier.

These are all welcome enhancements, and they're sure to be copied by others. The fact that the Moto X is about small improvements, not earth-shaking new technology, is not a failure on Motorola's part, either. The iPhone 5 was mainly a set of software and usability enhancements to the iPhone 4S, as was the Samsung Galaxy S 4 compared to the S III. Smartphones are clearly becoming mature products, so new versions are likely to be about refinements, not dramatic new capabilties, no matter what pundits want.

The Moto X and the promised family of related products yet to come look to be attractive, reasonable devices that will compare well to those from Apple, Samsung, and HTC. But they won't stand out dramatically. Motorola may now get on the short list for new Android buyers to consider, but given the reputational harm it has suffered under Google's ownership, that may not be enough to propel it into a leadership position -- especially as Google continues to develop competing Nexus devices with Motorola's competitors.

But Motorola's fate is really an industry concern, not one for most users to care about. They're looking for regularly improved fit, finish, usability, and utility. Specs don't matter much, and "oh my god" new capabilities will be rare. That's where the smartphone industry is focused, and it's where Apple, Samsung, and HTC have aleady turned. It's good to see Motorola join the party.

This article, "Moto X refines usability but otherwise is just another smartphone," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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