In a move that should surprise nobody, Google and Motorola are rumored to be working on the ‘X Phone’, a device that would compete directly with Apple’s iPhone. A report by Amir Efrati at the Wall Street Journal indicates that the device will be revealed next year and that the marquee device will ‘stand apart’ from existing devices, including those that Google already produces with partners under the Nexus banner.
Some ‘obstacles’ are being encountered, reports Efrati. “…its new hardware unit has run into obstacles associated with manufacturing and supply-chain management that have caused the company to rethink some initial plans for the X phone,” sources have told Efrati. He also reports that Google’s ‘complex’ relationships with the smartphone makers that use Android on their devices is also a matter for concern.
He also got Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside to say that they are working on “investing in a team and a technology that will do something quite different from the current approaches.”
The X Phone project is being led by former Google mapping manager Lior Ron. A bendable screen, ceramics, more colors and better camera technologies are all said to be a part of the plans, but also part of the issues that the company is running into with the device.
The phone is said to be a ‘hedge’ in case Samsung forks its own version of Android and starts producing its own app store and ecosystem.
As we wrote when the Google/Motorola deal was announced last year, discounting Google’s interest in Motorola’s hardware business was always a mistake.
While its party line now is that it plans to treat all Android vendors the same and that Motorola Mobility will continue to be operated as a separate entity, that’s just politics. Whatever Google’s plans for Motorola, it is going to take time. In the interim, expect Android to plug along in much the same way as it has been. There is no need for Samsung, HTC or other Android manufacturers to make any changes as long as Android holds the market share that it has and continues to grow.
Even if you know that your gravy train is going to go off the rails at some point, you’re going to keep riding that train until it’s not profitable any more. That being said, some companies, like Samsung, are already making plans to explore alternatives for when the hammer drops.
Google has just gotten a hardware arm grafted onto it that it can use to create mobile experiences which will ensure that their software always takes front and center on its devices and that it can count on to keep the platform moving forward. This way, they can set a point by which Android devices are measured, it can’t ensure the that the quality of those devices going forward stays high.
It was inevitable that Google would make some serious efforts at some point to protect itself from the all-to-real threat of manufacturers splintering off Android and taking their leave. Yes, the cozy arms of Google’s Play ecosystem makes for an attractive reason to stay, but if Amazon has long-term success with the Kindle Fire HD, you can bet Samsung would start thinking very seriously about whether breaking off and starting its own app and media stores might not be worth it. The X Phone is about Google preparing for that eventuality, which I think is inevitable at this point.
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