Motorola is the natural extension of Google's Nexus plans

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Motorola is the natural extension of Google's Nexus plans
Since Motorola was acquired by Google, there have been constant questions about how close the two companies would become. Google has maintained a "firewall" between the companies, and has essentially run Motorola separately. Google gives Motorola no inside tracks on software builds or Android plans, but that doesn't mean that Google doesn't have influence, and doesn't directly affect Motorola's decisions. 

It is obvious from Motorola's new round of devices that Google has a heavy influence, because Motorola's big marketing tag line when launching new devices highlights the fact that it only does minimal additions to Google Android. But, the influence is not allowed to be more overt than that, because otherwise Google will risk not only alienating Android hardware partners, but will risk attracting unwanted antitrust attention from the U.S. Justice Department. 

Even so, Motorola is taking a tack to follow the Google way. Many have been clamoring for a Motorola Nexus ever since Google acquired the company, but aside from the price tag on the Moto X, almost everything about the device falls in line with the Nexus ethos. And, even more than that, the new Motorola devices are carrying the torch of the Nexus brand much farther than any Nexus has before. 

The Nexus tradition

As I've talked about before, the Nexus brand of devices was created for three specific reasons (although the scope of the Nexus vision has changed somewhat). Originally, Google only wanted the Nexus brand to accomplish three things:

  1. To showcase Google Android - not "pure" Android, but Google Android and the features and functionality that Google envisioned as the future of the platform.
  2. To be a developer reference device - easily unlockable, easily rooted, and always running the latest version of Android
  3. To highlight the fact that manufacturer customization was the number one issue in why Android updates were so slow to be pushed out. 
At the time when the Nexus One was first released, the term "fragmentation" was still used incessantly, and as such there was a widespread misconception about who was to blame for the problems of Android. The term "fragmentation" made it sound like it was Google's fault that updates were slow, and there were frequent stories that came out claiming that Google was moving too quickly with Android updates for the manufacturers to keep up. 

There were also inane calls for Google to "lock down" Android and not allow the manufacturer customization, even though that would have effectively cut off a big selling point of the platform. Remember, at the time, Android was kind of ugly. We can all admit that now, right? As much as we all may have complained about Samsung TouchWiz, and HTC Sense (because they did legitimately overdo it with the visual flare), Android before Ice Cream Sandwich was simply not a good looking platform. It was functional, and always easy to customize, but the base system just looked utilitarian. Android 1.5 through 2.3 were the gawky teenage years, and with Android 4.0 puberty finished and brought the hotness. 

Since then, the Nexus brand has kept to those same three tenets, and has also added in the lower unlocked pricing. This move was intended to have two benefits: first, it would make the developer reference device cheaper for developers, and also widen the consumer scope of the device. Widening the consumer scope would help to make more visible #3 from above and show how fast updates can be when there's no manufacturer customization. 

Unfortunately, that message never really got the attention that Google hoped for a couple of reasons. The first trouble was that despite Google proving that manufacturer customization was a problem, manufacturers were not scaling back the custom skins. Sure the visuals in TouchWiz and Sense have become a bit more subdued, but the level of customization and bloat has tended to increase (at least from Samsung). The other problem was that the message fell a little flat, because of course Google could push updates faster, it had the code the entire time. Manufacturers still had to wait for the finished code to be released by Google before starting work on updates. It doesn't really help your case when you're using an unfair advantage, but that brings us back to Motorola. 

Motorola: the manufacturer proxy

The major benefit of keeping Motorola as a separate company is that it can't be seen to have that same unfair advantage that Google has. Motorola doesn't get the Android code until the same time as other manufacturers, so the playing field has been leveled in that regard. Of course, Motorola has completely abandoned Moto Blur (which we're all eternally grateful for), and only has a few additions to Google Android on its devices. And, to make things even faster, the additions to Motorola devices are mostly found in the Play Store including Touchless Control, Motorola Camera, and Motorola Spotlight. This means that they aren't as deeply integrated into the system as other customizations like Active Notifications, so the development process can be streamlined. Rather than dealing with integrating the code, the updated app is simply added to the system update package. 

All of this minimizes the time it takes Motorola to push out an update, as proven by the fact that the Android 4.4 KitKat update began rolling out to the Verizon Moto X yesterday. There has been a bit of backlash about this because the Moto X update began rolling out before the Nexus 4 started seeing KitKat (which happened today). But, that alone feels suspicious to me. Yes, there was a bug fix needed for the Nexus 4 update, and Google was likely holding back the KitKat update for that reason, but I wouldn't be surprised if Google also delayed a bit and waited until Motorola got its first update out the door as well. Everything about the way Motorola is handling its devices is pushing for speedy updates, but there is no good reason for Motorola to beat Google to the punch, unless Google let it happen. 

Regardless of that, Motorola has pushed out the update extremely fast. The only other manufacturer that has been as fast on a system upgrade has been Asus, which is another company that kept customization to a minimum at first. Although, Asus customization has been getting more intense, and that has been slowing down its updates. Motorola was able to push out its first update just under three weeks after Google first announced the KitKat, which is astonishing. 

Although, it should be noted that Google does release unfinished code to hardware partners before the official announcement, so Motorola, Samsung, HTC, and others did get the code before the Halloween reveal. But, the proper update can't really be built until the official code release. Still, the even more astonishing fact is that Verizon was the first carrier to offer the Moto X KitKat update. It is unclear when Verizon began testing the Moto X KitKat update, but there wasn't any news about it until the day before the update began rolling out. 

Verizon has been notoriously slow when it comes to approving updates. It doesn't seem to be an issue related to manufacturer customization either, because the Verizon Galaxy Nexus was the poster-child for how slow Verizon was at pushing updates. So, it's hard to say that it was Motorola's minimal customizations that helped out on that front, but whatever the company did, it worked extremely well. 


In the end, Motorola could end up propagating the message far more than the Nexus line ever could: customization has side effects beyond what the casual consumer thinks about. Most casual consumers like the added functionality in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4, but don't consider the downside too much. At most, a casual consumer will likely notice that they have almost no usable storage space because of all the TouchWiz additions on the device, and maybe notice some lag (although most wrongly tend to blame that lag on Android rather than Samsung). Many casual users don't even know or care what version of the software they are using unless a particular app doesn't work because of that. 

But, Motorola is making that information more visible, because it is pushing all Google all the time. You won't hear the term "Google experience" more anywhere else than from Motorola employees (and tech bloggers). Google almost never uses the phrase anymore. The Nexus 5 didn't even get a proper announcement event, Google simply put it up in the store. It's looking like the same may happen with the Nexus 10. The Nexus 7 is the most successful Google device in the casual consumer market, so that still gets a big reveal. But, Google has basically let Motorola take over in getting out the message: updates can be fast, but it is up to the manufacturers to do it right. 

img source: Droid Life



1. adrialk

Posts: 20; Member since: Sep 04, 2013

Motorola and Verizon have always had close ties ... we are probably just seeing it in the way of a software update for the first time.

2. buccob

Posts: 2975; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Great article Michael... I kind of like Sony for making their skin lightweight but they need to get their updates faster still.. I think it also comes down to making less devices, instead of flooding the market, and focusing on maybe 5: entry, midrange, flagship, phablet, tablet. This way, the manufacturer can manage all of them to update... Motorola promised this a while ago and it is doing it... and Sony mentioned this too but it still flooding... hopefully they learn from Google/Moto.

9. cezarepc

Posts: 718; Member since: Nov 23, 2012

+1 Sony are the only phones that I would suggest you don't put custom ROMS in. It's almost stock, with added functionality (just like moto's) just like how I want it. Would be great to have another Xperia S - Google Developers working on an EOM phone (not all stock like Google edition GS4 and HTC One).

3. danwatson

Posts: 117; Member since: Jan 03, 2012

I used to care about updates a bunch more. Now, so much of the updates takes place outside the OS that most hardly notice when a new Android version rolls around. The new problem that Google will face is now manufactures are even LESS likely to update. Look at Samsung that still runs 4.1 on the GS3 (probably the most popular android phone). People hardly notice the difference between 4.1 & 4.4 that Samsung feels less pressure to update and doesn't mind skipping a cycle. To me the biggest issue is competing products between Google and other manufactures such as Google Now/S Voice. Samsung almost forces S voice with hardware integration which is an issue for me because it competes with Google Now on my device. The fact that Samsung has a tun of (mostly) stupid air gestures makes no difference to me. Just turn them off and who cares. I'm fine with the add on features Samsung made on my Note 3, even though I hardly use them. But please Samsung, stop trying to compete with Google on things like voice search and PLEASE don't link your apps to my hardware buttons unless you give me the option of changing them

4. shinywindow unregistered

Must be nothing important in the tech news today. What a dumb and pointless article.

5. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

... You're what's wrong with society.

19. Doakie

Posts: 2478; Member since: May 06, 2009

Actually I thought this was an interesting read. Go back to one of the iPhone blogs.

24. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 892; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

LOL..hater... This is one of the very few interesting articles which PA publishes... Much better than iBugs...

6. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

What I don't understand is how would them using Moto as there hardware extension bring an antitrust case? If that's the case, wouldn't Apple be subject to that as well? And MS always showed favoritism towards Nokia, giving them money instead of charging for their OS. And even more so now that they've bought Nokia's hardware division. How would that be different if Google decided to use Moto in the same way? How is it not illegal for Apple & MS, but it would be for Google?

7. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

I dont get it either. Look at Samsung and LG....Google has went to them for the last handful of Nexus devices over the past 2-3 years. And hasnt went back to HTC since the Nexus One. If that isnt favoritism, I dont know what is. Never went to Moto expect for the Xoom. And thats a good point about MS and Nokia. Its fine for them to to partner, but Google and Motorola cant?

20. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

No because look what happened with MS with that strategy. All their partners have abandoned them and now they are losing even on the desktop front. Google needs to keep moto out of the "usual" phone business. By that I mean drop the regular phones and make premium unique phones like that "phonebloks" thing or moto X style. In that way, they could keep it profitable while also having a in-house hardware playground while not angering their partners like MS did.

8. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Because Android is the dominant player in the market, not iOS or WP. It would be seen as Google wielding power unfairly over the market. Also, the actual logic of it doesn't really need to be all that sound. Google is already on the Justice Department's radar because of its dominance in search, and once you're the focus of one antitrust hearing, even the smallest thing can get you called back in.

11. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

"Google is already on the Justice Department's radar because of its dominance in search, and once you're the focus of one antitrust hearing, even the smallest thing can get you called back in." I think its more this than anything. Its like a repeat offender of personal fouls, technical fouls in sports.

15. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

While that sounds reasonable, if say android hadn't come to pass, and Apple had the lion share of the market, it would be no different other than they had never had any patners in iOS. And going by what happened to MS back in the 90s, that was them forcing manufacturers to use Internet Explorer as the default search engine. What Google is doing with Android is different. They are saying do whatever you want with Android, but if you want our services then do not fork Android beyond certain laid out guidelines. But the thing is as far as favoritism in regards to updates, other OEMs could do the same as Moto, but they'd have to untangle their overlay from the OS and make it separate, much like a Nova or Apex launcher. Then they'd have much less work to update their hardware, assuming all of them get the rough builds at the same time. In essence, Moto had less software to update and make compatible due to their minimal/nonexistent skin. As long as other OEMs keep making their overlays more bloated and intertwined, Moto will continue to beat them on update speed. But, that is the OEM's fault, not Google's.

10. jellmoo

Posts: 2628; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

It isn't a matter of illegal or not, Google can use Motorola as their hardware unit all they want, the issue is their relationship with OEMs. Right now Google is keeping some separation between their hardware company (Motorola) and themselves to ensure that companies like Samsung, LG, HTC etc... don't feel as though they are at a pure disadvantage. If they felt that Google were doing things that did not allow for a fair playing field, these companies may decide to abandon Android and go other route like WP, Tizen, Firefox, Sailfish, Ubuntu, etc..

12. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

I get that, but what about Sony, HTC, and whoever else was in the running for a Nexus device the past few years seeing Samsung and LG basically the Nexus OEM's right now? That would seem like favoritism towards LG and Samsung, especially Samsung. They did back to back Nexus phones. LG might have just done back to back Nexus phones too. If its a matter of "bring it on"...and Moto brings it....I dont see whats the problem if they get picked for the next 5 Nexus's.

13. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

Forgot about Asus and Nexus tablets. And Samsung again for a Nexus tablet. Forget Motorola.....other Android OEM's should be upset about the relationship between Samsung and Google.

23. buccob

Posts: 2975; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Yeah the problem I see is that Google once offered Sony(-ericsson) the opportunity to make a Nexus device and they turned it down... So I guess it is like a "now you should come begging me" Anyway I hope Google reconsider and ask Sony to make a Nexus again... Sony has been working closer to Google's guidelines than other popular manufacturers I have seen...

14. chadcy

Posts: 29; Member since: Nov 19, 2012

Should I get a Motorola X or a Nexus 5? I like both and am leaning towards the Nexus 5. Would a Motorola made Nexus device be any different from the Moto X? Since Google owns Moto, is there really even a desire for a Moto made Nexus device? What would the specs look like? It would definitely need a micro sd card slot for me even though the current Nexus does not have one. Just thoughts in my mind I thought I would pose.

16. danwatson

Posts: 117; Member since: Jan 03, 2012

Maybe the LG G2 would be a better fit. It's basically a better Nexus 5 (though with weird button placement). I do prefer the back of the N5 to the Glossy G2 as well and you will likely get used to the buttons in no time. It has a more skinned version of android but a new launcher is just a free app away.

18. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

When asking for a Nexus phone, most people want one because of updates. So far LG hasn't said anything for the G2, which is ridiculous because it's a current model, it should be a no brainer. Their poor track record with updates is what made me choose a Maxx over the G2. And as far as microsd slot, I don't believe the G2 has one either.

17. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

A Moto made Nexus would basically be a Moto X, minus the Active Notifications, Touchless Controls, & Moto Assist, which I believe along with the minimal skin are the main selling points for choosing the X. Better radios and build quality would also be included in that. As far as microsd slots, that's basically Samsung's thing. Every other OEM has gotten rid of them, except for the lone HTC One Max. Google started that on their Nexus series with the Nexus S (ironically made by Samsung) and continued through the Nexus 5 and in all of their Nexus Tablets. At this point a stock build of Android and a microsd slot will involve a Samsung phone, rooting, and a stock ROM. Sorry.

21. jan25

Posts: 470; Member since: Feb 26, 2012

It basically comes down to this, Moto X has better battery life and more features, Nexus edges out in display and camera. I would go with the Nexus 5. I like where the Moto X is going, it's just not there yet in my opinion, especially when competing with the Nexus.

22. Shatter

Posts: 2036; Member since: May 29, 2013

How about a Motorala Nexus?

25. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 892; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

A nexus already is everything which we desire minus battery life Nexus+Motorola will change that also and we would have better battery also.. So Moto Nexus is the best device ever.

26. MobStarr

Posts: 2; Member since: Nov 19, 2013

I don't know if it is just me but I am not a big Motorola fan....I have had alot of their phones and for some reason I have not been pleased with them....I could explain it but it would take too long....all I can say for right now is that since I got the Electrify M I am not much of a fan....

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