Ina Fried

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Motorola’s Dennis Woodside on the Moto X and the Future of Google’s Hardware Company (Interview)

In trying to decide where to go after taking the helm at Motorola, Dennis Woodside looked at two factors.

First, he took stock of what the iconic hardware company was good at. Then, Woodside said, he looked at the market, studying in particular what were everyone’s big frustrations with the modern smartphone.

“We came up with a pretty long list of problems that aren’t solved yet,” Woodside said in an interview.

The result of that work is the Moto X — the first phone designed from the ground up since Google acquired Motorola in May 2012.

It’s a 4.7-inch Android phone that stands always ready to receive voice commands, can display the time and notification icons without draining its battery, and turns into a camera with a flick of the wrist.

The phone will cost $199 with a new contract, and be available by August on all four major U.S. carriers, as well as US Cellular.

Many of the device’s key features stem from what Woodside said were top gripes about current smartphones. (To see how the Moto X stacks up against other top smartphones, check out this post by Lauren Goode.)

While people take tons of pictures on their phones, Woodside said it can take as much as eight seconds to get a phone out of a pocket and take a picture.

“The challenge to the team was, ‘How do you get that down to one or two seconds,'” he said. “We think we’ve gotten that down to about 1.8 seconds.”

The Moto X camera can be activated by shaking it, and then a picture can be taken by pressing anywhere on the screen. “There’s not a small button that you need to find.”

Another challenging area is using cellphones in the car. Even models with hands-free options often require a user to touch the phone to wake it up, or even to dial.

“Why can’t you just speak to your phone?,” Woodside said. Thanks to a custom chip, the Moto X is always listening for voice commands, and can be awakened at any time with a special prompt.

The last area of focus was customization. Woodside noted that even though cellphones can be produced in any number of colors and materials, companies often sell them only in black or white.

“You can customize your shoes through Nike’s Project One site,” he said. “Why can’t you customize your device?”

Moto X buyers will be the ability to customize the outer shell of the phone and some of its software before it leaves the Texas factory. Starting this fall, customers will be able to choose from more than a dozen colors and finishes.

Woodside, for example, says he carries a model encased in teak, which he said makes the device something of a conversation piece.

Initially, that option will be only for those buying phones for AT&T, but other carriers will follow shortly thereafter.

The Moto X isn’t the answer to all of those problems, Woodside acknowledges, but he says it’s a big step in the right direction.

“There are some things, longer-term, that we still are focused on,” he said, pointing to some of the authentication work that special projects head Regina Dugan talked about at our D11 conference.

Motorola also wants to broaden out its product line, after a year spent narrowing focus and getting out of a number of businesses.

The Moto X is intended to be part of a family of products built around some common features. The first products — a trio of new Droid devices built for Verizon Wireless — were unveiled last week.

Other new products include other shapes and sizes of phones, as well as a model aimed more toward the budget segment of the market.

“Without giving too much away, one area that I talked about at D was this massive market for devices that are super high-quality but also reasonably priced,” Woodside said.

That’s both for prepaid carriers in the U.S. and for emerging markets, especially those in Latin America.

“We think there is a big opportunity there for Motorola,” Woodside said.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus