Dennis Woodside, CEO of Motorola, Google’s wholly owned phone-making subsidiary, walked onto a stage yesterday with the company’s rumored new superphone, and while he refused to take it out of his pocket, he confirmed that it’s real and that it’s launching in October of this year.
He also dropped a number of technical details about the phone, known as the Moto X, which indicate that, essentially, it’s the world’s most sophisticated cluster of sensors you can wear on your person, and it’s going to know every single thing you do, whether it’s driving, sleeping or taking a walk around the block. Google is betting that you will love your pocket Stasi so much you’ll never want to be without it—and Google is right.
Normal smartphones are limited in their ability to spy on you because their makers never anticipated that this is a thing you’d want to do. For an app on your phone to monitor you day and night, it needs to be running in the background all the time, pinging the phone’s sensors and radios at pre-set intervals—all of which can be a significant drain on a phone’s battery.
Motorola’s new Moto X phone gets around this problem by virtue of an array of sensors that were designed from the ground up to draw very little power. The phone also has a pair of microprocessors that facilitate this always-on monitoring.
All these custom electronics will allow users “to interact with [the phone] in very different ways than you can with other devices,” said Woodside. For example, the phone knows how fast you’re traveling, so it might not let you text while driving. And it has enough contextual information to know not only whether or not you just took it out of your pocket, but also why you just took it out of your pocket, so it can immediately fire up the camera app when you want to take a picture.
It’s the fact that Google’s forthcoming phone will start to know that “why”—the causal connections that stitch together our actions and desires—that is nothing short of astonishing. It’s also the natural evolution of a pretty incredible technology Google has been refining but which has yet to become well known outside geeks and those who own newer Android phones: Google Now.
Google Now is Google’s effort to give you the information you need, when you need it, without you even asking for it. When you search using the Chrome browser on a newer Android phone, or in the Google search app on an iPhone, Google is integrating your search history, all of your emails in Gmail, your appointments in Google Calendar, etc., so that it can tell you what the weather is before you walk out the door, what time that movie you’ve been wanting to see will be showing near you, etc.
Adding in all the passive, always-on sensors present in the Moto X phone means Google Now, which is built right into the web browser on Google’s newer Android phones, will give Google access to unprecedented amounts of information about all of us. Imagine a spy with access to a second-by-second record of your location and all of your electronic communications—and which is also the world’s most sophisticated superbrain, capable of mining all that information, big data-style, for unexpected connections.
That’s Google Now turbocharged by the forthcoming Moto X phone. And while Motorola CEO Woodside insists that Motorola and Google are “separate companies,” he’s also admitted that the head of Android and Chrome, Sundar Pichai, has already seen the Moto X phone. Plus, Woodside is himself a former Googler, and only came to Motorola in 2011. However integrated or not the two companies have become, it’s clear that Motorola is taking seriously its mandate to start creating Android-powered phones that are unique showcases for the power of both Android and all of the Google web services with which it can integrate.
Google has never had the same level of control over both hardware and software that Apple does, and buying Motorola was an obvious way for Google to get it. As Apple has demonstrated, having total control over both sides of this equation allows unprecedented integration between the two. And since Google is much, much better at web services than Apple is, if the hardware in the new Moto X phone is compelling—and with all these new custom sensors and processors, it looks like it probably will be—it seems possible that Google may finally release the “iPhone killer” that all of Samsung’s flagship Android phones are often touted to be. Woodside as much as admitted that the iPhone is the real target of the Moto X phone, when he talked about (non-specified) companies selling their phones with up to a 50% margin. The Moto X, he assured the audience, will be sold with very low margins—just like the tablets that Google has been selling at virtually no profit, as an effort to make inroads against the iPad.