Moto's new devices

Only one thing can make the Moto X matter

The new Moto X gets so many things right -- but there's one piece of the puzzle still missing.

Motorola Moto X 2014

The new Moto X is a fantastic phone -- one of the best ever made. Nearly every reviewer, present company included, agrees on that.

But you know what? The same was said about last year's Moto X. And about last year's HTC One, and this year's HTC One (M8). Yet by most measures, none of those phones has been a huge seller -- and neither of those companies has exactly been killing it financially.

That brings us to a harsh reality of mobile technology -- and one we've discussed before: To a large degree, it doesn't matter how exceptional a phone is. It matters how well it's marketed.

Sure, a device has to be reasonably good in order for it to sell well. But the best phones of the year won't end up in a lot of hands if regular, non-tech-geek folks don't know about them and understand what they offer. Just ask HTC or Motorola.

As I've been carrying around the new Moto X and using it in the real world these past weeks, a couple of noteworthy things have jumped out at me. First, tech geeks aside, hardly anyone knows what the phone is or what it's all about. And second, almost everyone who sees it is immediately intrigued and -- more often than not, after a brief tour of its highlights -- ends up wanting it.

Now, it's not like random strangers are coming up to me on the street and pawing at my pockets (no more than normal, anyway). But friends, family members, and folks I interact with -- the guy behind the counter at the deli, the woman who cuts my hair -- see me using the device and start asking questions.

In particular, "normals" seem to be impressed by three things about the phone:

  1. The fact that you can get it with a real wood back. The bamboo review unit I have gets the most attention by far and always ends up drawing a lot of "oohs" and "ahhs" once it's been noticed.
  2. The fact that you can wave your hand over the display while the phone's sitting on a table to see the current time and your notifications. I've demoed that feature several times after someone's asked me "what the phone can do" -- and trivial as it may seem, each time, the asker's been awestruck.
  3. The fact that you can wake the phone with your own custom launch phrase, even while the display is off, and then ask it questions and give it commands without ever touching the device. That one usually inspires the person to call someone else over -- "Hey, check out what his phone can do!" (Suffice it to say, I was quite the celebrity at my haircut place last Friday. Please, no autographs.)

So back to the question of consumer awareness: I'm no Don Draper, but based on my interactions in the real world, I'd think Motorola would sell an awful lot of these things if it focused on the areas "normal" folks notice and then devoted the resources to making the general phone-buying public aware of those qualities. I don't know that Moto managed to do that with last year's Moto X, and that's probably at least part of why the phone failed to take off. It's not only about advertising; it's about advertising the right things and in the right places.

Imagine if any of the features I just described were available on an iPhone. They'd be touted as "magical" and shown off everywhere you look -- because all other stuff aside, these are the kind of things regular people notice and get excited about. These are the kind of things that sell phones. Say what you want about Apple, but that company knows how to market its products -- and if it had technology like this, it'd be flying off the shelves.

When Google first bought Motorola, I said it needed to accomplish three things in order to succeed: focus, with lots of attention on a small number of devices; ubiquity, with products available everywhere; and marketing, with a carefully crafted message that reaches the masses and hits home.

Under Google's guidance, Moto has absolutely nailed the first one and is making headway on the second (remember when almost every Motorola device was a carrier exclusive?). Now it's time for the true test -- to see if it can master the third. It's not an easy feat to accomplish or the kind that can be achieved overnight, but if the company wants to make a mark, it has to happen.

Because as we've established, great technology doesn't automatically equal great sales. People know iPhones. People know Galaxy phones. Effective marketing leads to brand recognition, manufacturer loyalty, and the "I bought this because my friends have it" effect. It all goes full-circle.

No matter how impressive it is, the Moto X will only matter if typical consumers know about it and want to buy it. As the "normals" I've chatted with have shown me, the phone's good enough that the latter part will take care of itself -- but only if Motorola manages to accomplish the former.

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