Motorola announced three new Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop) smartphones today, including a high-end model that will be sold this fall in the U.S. as the Moto X Style Pure Edition, starting at $400 unlocked.
Analysts said despite Motorola's pitch of offering new smartphones at relatively low prices but with high-quality components, the company still faces tough competition from Apple and Samsung on the high end, and from dozens of small vendors that make low-priced smartphones, many of them based in China.
In the U.S. especially, the smartphone market is considered saturated. Any new smartphone faces difficulty standing out when buyers need to replace an older smartphone.
"In mature markets, anyone who wants a smartphone has one already, and unless they are tech-savvy people, what they already have is probably good enough. So do I really care about slightly better display resolution, more shell colors, or better cameras?" asked Gartner analyst Tuong Huy Nguyen.
The $400 starting price puts the 5.7-inch Moto X Style Pure Edition (called the Moto X Style outside the U.S.) well below unlocked prices of $650 to $800 for other high-end phones like the Apple iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6.
That lower price comes with a series of promised advanced features, including fast battery charging (10 hours' charge in 15 minutes), a 21-megapixel rear camera, and a 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor.
Still, such advances might not make much of a difference for Motorola, Nguyen said. "People don't care for those kinds of things," he said. "There isn't anything that new or that different to the point where I'd want it as an average consumer. People will ask, 'What else can it do?'"
Motorola also touted a common LTE feature for the Pure Edition that would make it relatively easy to switch carriers among Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile with a different SIM card.
Again, Nguyen was unconvinced that will matter. "LTE Is just another tech acronym for most people, and how many people are willing to switch operators? People tend to pick one carrier whether they love it or not," Nguyen said.
The ultimate question for Motorola, now a part of China-based Lenovo, is whether the Pure Edition in the U.S. -- or its cousin the Moto X Style in other countries -- can give Lenovo the boost it needs in developed markets where smartphone saturation is high.
Motorola had just 1.3 percent of the global smartphone market at the end of 2014, before Lenovo's purchase was finalized. In the first quarter of 2015, Lenovo plus Motorola had 5.6 percent of global smartphone sales, according to Gartner, putting it in third place behind Samsung in first, with 24 percent of the market, and Apple in second with 18 percent.
"Survival is the name of the game for many vendors, and it's more dire for those with much lower market share," Nguyen noted. "So survival is a legitimate concern" for Lenovo/Motorola.
IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said the Moto X Style and Pure Edition will play best with "armchair techies who can customize their phones themselves and don't want bloatware." He called it a smart move, but noted that that market of buyers is still a small one.
Llamas said Motorola will do better with one of the other new smartphones announced Tuesday -- a third-generation update of the Moto G that was first launched in 2013.
Starting at $179 unlocked, Llamas called the latest Moto G price "very compelling" for getting features that include a 5-inch display, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 2470 mAh battery. It is also water-resistant and can survive for 30 minutes when dropped in one meter of water. (That's an IPX7 rating.)
The Moto G went on sale in 60 countries today.
Still, Llamas had reservations for the new Moto G. "Unless they get carrier distribution, I expect continued low market share," he said.
The third phone Motorola announced, the Moto X Play, will be priced somewhere between the new Moto G and the Moto X Style, but Motorola didn't provide a figure. It will go on sale in 55 countries in August, Motorola President Rick Osterloh announced via an online presentation.
The Moto X Play comes with a 5.5-inch display, a 21-megapixel camera, a water-repellant barrier, and a 48-hour battery, rated at 3630 mAh.
This story, "Motorola launches revamped Moto X, Moto G smartphones" was originally published by Computerworld.