Motorola today announced what will likely be its last big set of devices before the Lenovo acquisition closes, in the form of revamped Moto X and Moto G smartphones, the Moto 360 smartwatch, and the Moto Hint bluetooth earpiece. The comment below may be attributed to Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research. Jan may also be reached for comment at (408) 744-6244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Motorola’s new smartphones build on the success it has had with its smartphones over the past year, particularly that of the Moto G, which has been Motorola’s best selling device in years. The Moto X, which was previously awkwardly positioned at a premium price point without specs to match, has received a significant upgrade. At least on paper, it now seems worthier of the company it keeps in the premium category, while receiving a price cut to make it significantly cheaper than comparable devices. But even though Motorola claims that it makes money on each device it makes, it’s losing money as a business unit under Google. Only with significantly increased scale can Motorola start to become profitable as an enterprise, and that’s where the Moto G comes in. A big seller in India and other markets, and also more surprisingly in several mature markets, the phone has been a surprise hit for Motorola. Motorola has retaken market share in countries like the UK where it has been a non-entity for several years, and has become the number two brand in smartphones in Brazil. For a company which briefly seemed on its way out, this is something of a resurrection, and the Moto G is a big part of that success.
The Moto 360 is the latest Android Wear smartwatch, and arguably the most anticipated, as Motorola has cleverly stoked interest since its early reveal at the Android Wear launch announcement. The looks are striking, and it sets itself apart nicely in that department from its major competitors. Motorola is attempting to position this device as first and foremost a watch, rather than a smartwatch, although the underlying platform is the same as other recent entries in the category. However, with a $249 price point and single-day battery life, the Moto 360 suffers from the same shortcomings as other smartwatches already in the market: they fail to meet the basic criteria for a successful product in a market for which there isn’t much demand to begin with. It will probably sell better than most Android smartwatches, but that isn’t saying much in a category that’s been underwhelming from the start. (For more on smartwatches from Jackdaw Research, see this blog post: http://techpinions.com/grading-on-a-curve-smartwatches-in-2014/33599 and this report: http://jackdawresearch.com/smartwatches/).
Where Motorola is really beginning to set itself apart is in adding value to the generic Android experience across these devices, and in making them work together particularly well. The sensibly renamed Moto Voice, Moto Assist, Moto Display and Moto Actions are real value-adds on top of Android, and will help to set the phone apart. But the Hint will extend these functions in a useful way and set the headset apart in a category which has become positively stale.
The biggest question at this point is to what extent Motorola’s strategy over the past few years will come to an end with its acquisition by Lenovo, and to what extent some of its innovations will continue under its new owner. What’s clear is that Lenovo sees significant value in the Motorola brand and carrier relationships outside of China, but what’s less clear is how much it will embrace the strategy exemplified by the Moto X and Moto G.