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The Moto X is a fascinating case study in mobile strategy. If you look closely, you can see Google’s strategy for changing the mobile market behind the phone’s design. Google and Motorola had high ambitions for the Moto X. It’s why the phone looked nothing like anything else on the market.

Whatever those goals were, it’s hard to claim the Moto X met them. The Wall Street Journal reported that Strategy Analytics put the device’s sales at 500,000. Compared to the Galaxy S4’s 10 million sales in the same time period, it’s hard to say the phone sold well.

While other factors affected the Moto X’s sales, Motorola created many of its own problems. Hindsight makes everything more obvious, but some of these decisions were a bad idea.

Unrealistic Price Point

I mentioned this in my initial reaction post to the Moto X’s announcement. Despite offering sub-flagship specs, Motorola asked a full $200 on contract for the phone.

Clearly, the company figured this out. Although only months old, the Moto X’s price has halved to $100 on contract… and that price still isn’t moving units.

It’s just hard to justify buying a phone so low-specced at that price when you could get a Galaxy S4 or a Nexus 5 instead. Which brings me to my next point…

No Compelling Features

The Moto X tried to offset its subpar specs with cool features you can’t get anywhere else, stuff like Touchless Controls and Active Notifications.

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The problem is that these features aren’t especially compelling. Google Now is an excellent search tool, but it’s not good enough that I want to always talk about it.

Active Notifications, conversely, are amazing. Motorola deserves a serious tip of the hat for thinking of this concept. It’s ingenious.

However, I’m not sure who Active Notifications are meant for. Casual users probably won’t understand or care about them. Enthusiasts can display more data with DashClock.

Speaking of audiences…

Missed Target Audience

The Moto X was clearly intended to be a mass-market device, like the iPhone. Motorola wanted to be like Apple and sell phones on design rather than specs.

Just look at the device. Small screen, lower specs, plastic exterior, cool-but-kinda-gimmicky features, and an emphasis on cosmetic customization.

However, Motorola never reached that mass audience. Hitting mass market requires a lot of advertising. Ask Samsung and Apple. They know if you want to break into the casual user’s consciousness, it means spending big bucks. Far more than Motorola has spent so far.

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Plus, how many of the casual users understand what makes the Moto X appealing? Say “Active Notifications” to a random stranger, and they won’t understand what you mean.

Motorola also lost the enthusiast crowd with its design choices. Between the Galaxy Note III and the Nexus 5, only a small group of dedicated Android fans picked up the Moto X. Why buy the under-specced phone when you can get a 5-inch behemoth?

The Moto X ended up as a phone without an audience. To make matters worse, those that did want to buy it had to put up with this crap…

A Botched Rollout

The Moto X’s launch went poorly. First, Motorola limited the phone to the United States and Canada. That’s basically giving up the international Android market to Samsung.

Second, the company fumbled one of the coolest parts of the Moto X. You could go online and order a customized Moto X from the Moto Maker website… as long as you were on AT&T.

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Third, Motorola consistently mishandled production. It promised options to put a wooden and bamboo back on your phone, only to delay those.

It promised an off-contract Moto X for $350 on Cyber Monday, but the company’s servers buckled under the load. When they came back with the deal, customers found out Motorola was only selling a limited number of Moto Xs for $350.

Motorola let a great deal of enthusiasm die as it sorted out the Moto X’s production issues. Maybe with a universal Moto Maker and worldwide availability, we could have seen a more successful Moto X.

What Could Have Been

It’s a shame the Moto X performed so poorly because it made bold design choices that could help influence other Android manufacturers positively.

It offered near-stock Android with genuinely useful features added on top. No custom skins, no bloat, and no BS. This is what Google wants custom Android skins to look like.

Samsung could take a lesson here. Instead of throwing 50 features into a phone and seeing what sticks, pick a few good ones and add those. Restraint always tops bloatware.

The Moto X also sat out the specs and screen size race, limiting itself to reasonable measurements. This is a nice change, considering other manufacturers’ apparent need to turn phones into tablets.

I like the concept of the Moto X. Stock Android plus cool features like Active Notifications? Sounds good to me.

However, Motorola just couldn’t find room for that kind of phone in today’s market. Hopefully, it’ll come back with a similar but more successful version of the Moto X.

Final Thoughts

Looking back at my thoughts on the Moto X, it gets harder to understand why this phone sold so few units. It really does have a lot going for it. The Moto X should have worked.

Maybe next time.

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