Ina Fried

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Exclusive: Dennis Woodside on the Genesis of the Moto X, Ditching Tablets and Learning to Say No

Motorola’s phone of the future owes some of its capabilities to a high-tech watch that failed to achieve much commercial success.

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Speaking at D11, Motorola head Dennis Woodside confirmed the Moto X name, said the phone would be made in the U.S. and indicated that a variety of always-on sensors would help define the product, due out later this year.

In an interview just after he left the stage, Woodside told AllThingsD that the Moto X borrows some of its battery-friendly sensor technology to information Motorola got through its MOTOACTV watch.

“What Motorola learned was how to manage very-low-power sensors,” Woodside said, noting it was always collecting location and heart-rate information. “They took those learnings to the smartphone.”

The Moto X is one of several new phones from Motorola due out this fall, Woodside said, though he declined to offer more details than the sparse few he passed out onstage.

Woodside was more talkative on other fronts, noting that Motorola is essentially done with layoffs and divestitures after shrinking the company from 20,000 employees a year ago to around 4,000 mostly engineering types in Chicago and California.

The new Motorola is focused mainly on phones, but also — as AllThingsD reported — on phone accessories.

“Motorola has a leading position in Bluetooth headsets, but we actually think Bluetooth is going to get a lot better,” Woodside said. He said Motorola is prototyping tiny, in-ear earpieces that are decidedly less dorky.

The company is also pulling back from tablets, an area Motorola was once investing quite heavily in. Tablets, for example, require different distribution and don’t benefit from Motorola’s focus on power efficiency.

“A lot of what we know isn’t as important in the tablet,” Woodside now. “For now we haven’t been focused on that. That may change.”

Indeed, a lot of what Woodside has been doing lately is saying no.

“We’ve shut down or postponed a couple products in the last couple weeks,” he said. “It’s hard. You have people who put their lives into a product or the last year into a product.”

It’s really hard for people to hear that their product isn’t a priority or good enough — but that’s critically important for Motorola.

Woodside said he had one of Motorola’s new phones in his pocket, but declined to offer even a glimpse of the product.

But he said that Motorola is ready to make some products that will change people’s minds, with a key focus on the Americas — both North America and South America.

“We’re going to play a different game than Motorola has played in the recent past,” Woodside said. “It’s not going to radically change the world in the first launch, but we do think that the products will find their markets.”

Things like flexible and unbreakable screens are in the works, but won’t be part of this year’s crop of phones.

“Those are further off,” Woodside said.

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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post