The Moto X reflects Google’s influence, but not preference

Credit: Motorola

The Moto X has finally been officially unveiled, after a few weeks of Motorola teasing about it being built in the U.S. and customizable.

But those aren’t the most notable factors about the phone. What stands out the most is that this time around Motorola hasn’t gone overboard with any heavy-handed Android add-ons. That surely shows Google’s influence -- this is the first phone fully designed under the watch of the search giant, which announced plans to purchase Motorola two years ago, and it seems to attempt to let Android shine on its own.

But it also shows that Google isn't favoring Motorola with early access to new Android builds, either. It’s not clear if that’s by design or a matter of development timing.

Motoblur redux

Who remembers Motoblur? It was a skin that Motorola added to its early Android phones, designed to help them stand out from the crowd. Many people hated it, complaining that it took over their phones and didn’t put them in control in the way that Android promises.

It also slowed down Motorola’s process of pushing out Android operating system updates because it had to work Motoblur into the update.

Motorola very slowly phased out Motoblur.

With the Moto X, Motorola has added some of its own innovations. For instance, users can say "OK Google Now" to the phone to do things like make a call, set up an appointment, or get directions -- and they don’t have to open an app or even push a button to use voice command. That’s a novel feature.

The phone also displays information on the sleep screen, so users don’t have to wake up the phone to see alerts. Missed calls and emails, for instance, show on the screen so users can see new developments at a glance without touching the phone.

These are nice features that could boost productivity. But they’re also easy to ignore if users don’t want to use them. It doesn’t sound like they’ll take over the phone in the way that previous Motorola add-ons, like Motoblur, did.

Moto X lets Android do the heavy lifting and theoretically makes it easy for Motorola to push out the latest Android updates – something that Google has been speedy about with its Nexus line of phones, over which it has some control.

“Theoretically” is a key word there, though, because the Moto X ships with Android 4.2. Android 4.3 was released just days ago and is so far only rolling out to Nexus devices. It looks like Motorola, despite being owned by Google, will be behind the curve a bit -- just like the rest of the non-Nexus devices.

Who knows if that’s by design. When Google announced plans to buy Motorola, handset makers had reason to fear that Google would give preferential treatment to Motorola. It’s possible that Google purposely didn’t give Motorola a leg up with 4.3 so as not to be seen as giving it special treatment.

More likely, Motorola just had to cut off development before 4.3 was totally ready and so couldn’t ship phones with the software. Either way, some people will be disappointed to learn that it doesn’t ship with Android 4.3 since there were reports that it would. Now, it's just a matter of how quickly Google will update it.

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