When Google gained control of Motorola in 2012, the expectation was that Google was ready to release a smartphone of its own. That never happened. The blame can perhaps be put on Google’s engineering team or even the CEO’s lack of wanting to work with Motorola. Instead, Motorola pushed on its own and produced its flagship that was announced and released in August 2013: the Moto X. It was the return of Motorola, eliminating its massive amount of devices to just focus on a single one. Google was now holding an umbrella over Motorola, making sure nothing could go wrong and nurse it back to health. Everyone thought that this device would bring together a superb, unchanged software experience along with cutting edge specifications. For some reason, hardly anyone bit.
Just a few months prior to the Moto X announcement, Samsung and HTC released flagship smartphones. Samsung was a lock to sell tens of millions of units with its Galaxy S 4 because the Galaxy S III had solidified the Galaxy brand as Android’s go-to. HTC, though, introduced the very attractive One (M7). Like Motorola, it was a device to wipe the slate clean and, in a way, start over. The spring season belonged to both Samsung and HTC fighting it out for consumers. So Motorola aimed at a summer launch. Hell, they even prepared for it with a massive newspaper ad to build hype. And a mere six days after the Moto X was announced, LG launched the G2. Motorola was sandwiched between three other companies, not to mention the announcement of the next iPhone was looming for Apple. Motorola’s thunder was stolen right away.
What they brought to the market was a smartphone with features that mattered. Unlike just about every other Android manufacturer, Motorola kept the kitchen sink. Basically, the Moto X was running an enhanced version of Android. There were no blatant user interface changes, only added features. This would give hope to timely updates, something absolutely no other company has been mastering. It is what everyone wanted and expected out of a flagship smartphone.
Motorola had each and every other company beat when it came to software, but hardware is just as important. What Motorola did not bring to the market was cutting edge specifications (depending upon how you look at it). The company proclaimed the Moto X’s performance was just as good as anything else thanks to the X8 Mobile Computing System. At its core was the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. It was paired with various processors that made it an unofficial octa-core SoC. This would allow Touchless Control and other Moto X-only features to be possible. Motorola opted for a lower resolution in return for respectable battery life and backed up the choice by defending the display quality. Everyone raised a brow and Motorola had us listening.
The Moto X had a presence on the lineup of all four major carriers here in the United States. So availability was not an issue. Even branding was no issue, not even with Verizon. Providing a compelling case for its specifications was the hard part.
When everyone learned that the Moto X did not have a 1080p display, latest Snapdragon processor, or a pixel-packed camera, price became an area where Motorola could rally consumers. Give decent specifications at a decent price. The Moto X today costs $99 or less on-contract just about everywhere. Off-contract it starts at $349 for 16GB of internal storage. Those prices did not look anything like that at launch. Initially it was $199 with a new two-year contract or more than $600 without. Ludicrous considering what other carriers could offer. If Motorola wanted to penetrate the market, just give it the proper pricing from the start.
As mentioned before, Google having ownership over an Android manufacturer meant it could pump money into marketing. We all know that this is what Samsung does very, very well and it has worked for quite some time. Just about two weeks before Motorola’s Moto X unveiling, word came out that Google was preparing a massive $500 million marketing budget just for the device. This number has never been confirmed and could be completely false. Though, it is clear Google did spend money to promote the device. This would have pushed the Moto X straight into everyone’s face, like it or not.
What the alleged massive marketing budget really got was extremely underwhelming to say the least. It started with the Lazy Phone ad campaign that starred T.J. Miller. They were comical, yes, but the Moto X did not have the brand recognition to be goofing around with. Even Samsung still focuses on just the phone and its features for many of its advertisements. You have to start building somewhere.
The second round of advertising got better as it showcased Moto Maker. It was all about what Moto Maker had to offer in terms of customization. Finally, marketing done right. But wait, they forgot to include all four of the biggest carriers in the United States! Moto Maker launched with just AT&T. Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile all joined much later and about an entire month after the Moto Maker ads started to roll out. So if a consumer on one of the three carriers wanted to hop on Motorola’s train, it was not going to happen at the start.
And there lies another problem with the botched Moto Maker launch. Not everyone had access. Also, the wood back panel options that were hugely praised saw a release at the very end of 2013 when absolutely no one cared. The press loved the idea… all the way back in August when the Moto X was unveiled. Months go by and all of that attention was dead. Since the wood back panel options came so late, consumers’ eyes were set right on Samsung, HTC, and LG’s next flagships. To make things tougher, ordering a smartphones online is still not a very common or ideal experience for most consumers. It is much quicker to walk into a retail store and make a quick choice based upon an experience. Motorola had vouchers to take from a retail store to the Moto Maker site, but that was not heavily promoted and it would still require a wait. Consumer just don’t go for that in the mobile world.
Google sold Motorola for more than $3 billion. The taker was Lenovo, another massive company from Asia looking to expand its presence. Motorola’s ‘American Dream’ was over even before the Moto X turns one year old. Lenovo can just pump phones out into the United States market because it has the willingness to use its financial backing for a foothold in a new market.
Whatever Lenovo intends to do are things that may not have cared to do. Google wanted to nurse Motorola back to a healthy state and put it back on its feet. Google threw a potentially massive marketing budget at consumers. Somehow Google had no pull with carriers and the arrival of Moto Maker included just a single carrier for some time. And a huge bonus for Moto Maker came so late that everyone was looking for something else from another company. There it is: something else from another company. Companies like Samsung and HTC create a unique experience (which Motorola did primarily with software) and put their devices on each carrier (which Motorola did late). They then back it up with advertising. In HTC’s case, their phones are as strong because their advertising has been suspect, but Samsung delivers in every way. Unfortunately Motorola didn’t deliver all that much. Commercials with T.J. Miller being humorous is not quite the way to resurrect yourself from the ashes while launching mere months between juggernauts. Instead, the Moto X has been a failure and the company is in the process of being transitioned into another company’s hands, which could give it the focus is actually needs to be put on the right path. Or will it just be more confusion?
David Ogilvy, widely regarded as The Father of Advertising, said “There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 per cent more readers.” Look at the success of other Android devices and you will find that information is there. Motorola went down the road of having advertisements that looked like just that and failed to deliver upon what people actually cared about at launch.