Motorola Responds to the Moto X Phone Critics, Part 2: Motorola Engineer Iqbal Arshad Slams Samsung, HTC, and Defends the Moto X

Did you see the Moto X phone banner placed in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other places around July 4th? The entire point of the ad was to discuss the freedom of Americans and how consumers should have the “freedom” to craft their smartphones the way they want.

Google is to be credited with its early Moto X phone promotions, considering that the “X 1” made by the jumping actions of the man and the woman in the newspaper announcement were the talk of tech sites and enthusiasts for weeks afterward.

Some believed the ad pointed to July 11th (one week after Independence Day; “X” and “I” are Roman numerals that represent the number 11), while I believed it pointed to the fact that the Moto X would start as one smartphone model, but branch out to a collection of smartphones over time. Next year, if I’m correct, we should see the Moto X 2 make its way to the smartphone market. The Moto X presents an entirely new chapter in the life of Google, Inc.

Moto X smartphone

In Part 1 of this mini-series, Iqbal Arshad responds to the claim that the Moto X comes with last-year’s processor (dual-core processors are a 2012 standard, not 2013), and that Google’s price point for last-year’s specs is unjustified. Iqbal Arshad responded by saying that the Moto X includes the fastest Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core processor and also uses other processors – a fact that I point out, and even use to undermine Arshad’s statements against quad-core processors.

It is common sense that a quad-core processor can do things that a dual core cannot. It is like saying that a car with four backup tires can travel farther than a car with only two back-up tires (or that a car with four tires can travel further than a car with two tires). Who could travel on a 600-mile road trip with only two tires on a vehicle?

In this Part 2, I am back to discuss further comments made by Arshad in his CNET interview with Marguerite Reardon. In this segment, Arshad downs Samsung’s Galaxy series, trash-talks HTC’s LCD screen, and praises the Moto X for its innovation, going so far as to say that the Moto X is a game-changer in the market and is the most innovative phone out currently.

 

In his comments regarding the Moto X and the current smartphone market, Arshad offers his thoughts on Samsung and where the market is at the moment:

 

If you think about it, the market has been relatively stagnant…The small computers we carry around in our pockets aren’t really ‘smart.’ I mean, what can you do with the Samsung Galaxy S4 that you can’t do with the Galaxy S3? The answer is nothing [Marguerite Reardon, quoting Iqbal Arshad, “Top Motorola engineer defends Moto X specs (Q&A); CNET].

 

I can understand Arshad’s position with regard to the Moto X, but why did he feel the need to put down Samsung in order to do it? I mean, it seems as if Motorola wants to take credit for contextual computing when Motorola is late to the smartphone game. It was Samsung, however, who decided to incorporate contextual awareness software such as contextual page buddy and contextual tag into its own version of Android’s 4.1.2 Jelly Bean (a la its Premium Suite Upgrade).

 

Our phones are smarter as a result of Samsung’s contextualization software, considering that contextual page buddy was set up to start playing music when you insert your headphones into the headphone jack. Contextual tag is supposed to help you mark the date, time, and place of your photos (as well as the names of those involved in them). In other words, Samsung’s software has been designed to help our smartphones become smarter. I don’t think Motorola quite understands the beauty of what Samsung’s Galaxy S series can do.

 

And this goes into his insult against Samsung regarding the difference between a GS3 and GS4. He says, “What can you do with the Samsung Galaxy S4 that you can’t do with the Galaxy S3? The answer is nothing.” This statement is simply untrue, and anyone that has played around with a GS4 for one day (if not one month) would know that this statement is a flat-out false one. The GS4 comes with floating touch gestures such as Air View and Air Gesture, not to mention it also comes with an IR blaster that allows you to change your TV channel without getting off the couch – or even from outside the house.

 

Having owned a GS3 and now a GS4 Active, I can tell you that there are noticeable differences between the GS3 and the GS4. While Samsung’s Premium Suite Upgrade has come to the GS3, it doesn’t work as well as it does on the GS4 – simply because the GS4 has a quad-core processor and is better able to juggle multi-tasking than the GS3.

 

In addition to the new GS4 capabilities, I can also perform Smart Pause and Smart Scroll. Smart scroll will scroll down the page while you’re reading, tracking your eye movements. Smart pause will pause the video when you turn away from it. Both of these features, however, must be done with a good amount of light in the room. These features will not work well in low-lit or dark environments. These are examples of things that Samsung’s GS4 does for the user. Once the user activates these features with one touch, the phone is smart enough to perform these functions without you having to reprogram the phone in order to see them.

 

This is the problem of where the Moto X’s touchless controls come in. Sure, you can talk to your phone while in bed (as one Moto X commercial shows us), but so can the GS4 user. All he or she has to do is program his or her phone (train it) to respond to his or her wake-up command (even use “wake up,” as I’ve programmed S-Voice on my GS4 Active), and S-Voice responds to my voice.

 

In the same way, the Moto X allows you to train your phone to respond to you and only you. This is really no different from the GS4 experience – except the Moto X allows you to command your phone without touching it. The Moto X removes the first touch from your voice command capabilities when compared to the GS4, but it still, ultimately, does the same voice commands that the GS4 does.

 

So, I think that, despite Arshad’s claims that there are no differences in the GS3 and GS4, users would disagree. Additionally, I would disagree with Arshad that our smartphones haven’t really become smarter over the years. When the iPhone first emerged in 2007, there was no Siri or S-Voice on smartphones. In fact, the Moto X hadn’t even come along, considering that Motorola was still hung up on the flip phone era, and we didn’t realize that our phones could talk back to us.

 

It took four years after the entrance of the iPhone 1 to arrive at a phone that could talk to users in the iPhone 4S (which is now two years old). The “S” in 4S stands for Siri, and Apple acquired the voice command company nearly one year before incorporating Siri into the iPhone experience. It is because of Siri that Samsung emerged with its S-Voice voice command assistant.

 

Granted, Google’s own voice command was ahead of Apple’s at this time, but Motorola was nowhere to be found. It is only because of Google that Motorola’s latest flagship has such strong Google Now integration. And, Samsung’s GS4 allows you to use voice commands to take photos and capture scenes with your camera.

 

Why is it, however, that Google Now does not allow voice commands to activate the camera, but requires two wrist-flicks in order to open the camera? The GS4 allows me to say “capture” and take a photo; is this a feature that is missing on the Moto X? Again, I think that Motorola could learn a lot from Samsung, one of the giants in the Android world.

 

Why the Moto X Is Misunderstood

 

Marguerite Reardon asked Iqbal Arshad about whether or not the Moto X is a misunderstood device, and Arshad had an answer:

 

“It’s hard because people are programmed by the industry to look at things like how many cores a chip has or whether the display is 1080p. That’s how chip and display manufacturers differentiate their products…it’s hard to understand because you’re comparing architectures that are fundamentally different. It’s kind of like people who are looking at a Tesla electric car and expecting it to have a V-8 engine. When you talk about an electric motor, it’s hard for people who are used to comparing specs on traditional cars to understand how it truly compares, because it’s completely different.

So people who are trained to look at processor cores, the number of pixels per inch, and whether or not it has a 1080p screen resolution have no frame of reference.”

 

Arshad’s analogy of using traditional car specs to categorize an electric car is not one that necessarily applies here. After all, an electric car does have noticeable differences between itself and traditional vehicles, but is the Moto X all that different from standard smartphones? Not really.

 

Does the smartphone come with a dual-core processor? Yes. Why then, can the Moto X not be compared with other dual-core processors on the market? According to Arshad, it’s because the Moto X has other processors for other tasks, unlike other smartphones on the market. But, it still retains a basic, dual-core processor for its tasks, does it not? It has a 10-megapixel (MP) rear-facing camera, does it not? Why then, can it not compare to the 13MP camera smartphones that are on the market?

 

Does the smartphone come with a display? Yes; in fact, it has a 4.7-inch, AMOLED display. Is this different from other smartphones on the market? Not really; in fact, the HTC One uses a 4.7-inch display (Samsung’s GS3 has a 4.8-inch display) and Samsung produces super AMOLED smartphones as well as AMOLEDs. Can the Moto X be compared to other AMOLED smartphones on the market? Yes. The Moto X is using all of these standard supplies in the industry, so why would we consider it to be a different kind of smartphone?

 

According to Arshad, the Moto X is different because it uses multiple processors to improve battery life. This may indeed be an answer to battery life and performance issues, but does the addition of multiple processors make the Moto X a different phone? Not really. In fact, Arshad refers to the Qualcomm processor used in the Moto X as “the fastest dual-core processor from Qualcomm.” Either this is a concession to current industry standards, or Arshad himself believes that these standards have some level of significance. And if Arshad believes these standards have some significance, then there has to be some other reason as to why Motorola decided to use a dual-core processor.

 

Why not go with a quad-core processor from Qualcomm (say, a Snapdragon 600), then add the Motorola X8 Computing processors? If Motorola had used a quad-core processor, then added the new X8 computing processors, would the Moto X have been a game-changer? Absolutely.

 

The issue here, then, is not that Motorola went with the dual-core then added its own computing processors to be a game-changer, but rather, that Motorola went with a 2012 core system in order to add its own computing processors and be a game-changer.

 

At the end of the day, Motorola wanted to make a profit from the Moto X. According to a Bloomberg News interview with Google administrator Eric Schmidt, Google wants to make a profit from the Moto X. What is the best way to make a profit: go with a current, Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor, or use an older, dual-core processor and add your own creative processors? If Motorola added its own processors, it could make more money off the Moto X than to pay Qualcomm for a quad-core processor (4 cores are more expensive than 2). If it went with a dual-core processor, Motorola could save money and make more in profit without having to pay so much money to Qualcomm.

 

Arshad can say that Motorola wanted to change the game and improve battery life and performance with a dual-core and multiple processors, but you cannot tell me that a dual-core with multi-processors performs better than a quad-core with multiple processors. It’s hard to believe and is likely untrue. The goal was to manufacture the phone with Motorola at the helm, so that Google could make a profit from the phone. In other words, “use as little equipment from other manufacturers as possible.”

 

This is the strategy of not only Motorola, but also Google. After all, Google bought out Motorola over a year ago, and paid the $12.5 billion debt that Motorola was under to keep the phone maker in business. Not only did Google buy out Motorola, but Google also took on Motorola’s past debt and recurring debt since the acquisition. According to BGR, as of last month (July 2013),

 

“Motorola’s non-GAAP operating losses exploded to $218 million per quarter during the spring period…Google is now staring at the possibility of bleeding a billion dollars per year thanks to its pet albatross [Motorola].

 

Measured on GAAP basis, operating losses related to Motorola have already ballooned past $300 million per quarter. Restructuring charges still top $80 million per quarter…Motorola’s GAAP operating margins are now a negative -34%” (Tero Kuittinen, “Motorola is turning into a rotting albatross around Google’s Neck”).
With Google losing some $218 million every three months due to Motorola’s debt, what better way to recoup money than to force Motorola to produce the phone? After all, if Motorola is responsible for Google’s debt, then Motorola should be the one to make things right – with the new Moto X smartphone.

 

Google’s financial motive is the same motive Samsung had with its GS4 Active. The company opted its GS4 13MP camera for an 8MP rear-facing camera, used physical buttons instead of capacitive touch buttons, and swiped out its super AMOLED display for an LCD screen in order to save money and make additional profit. It was also to Samsung’s benefit, seeing that they could charge only $597 for the waterproof smartphone and still make more of a profit from it than they did the GS4. After all, GS4 sales have been strong, but not as strong as Wall Street expected.

 

Programmed by the Smartphone Industry?

 

Arshad says in his interview with CNET that people are “programmed by the industry to look at things like how many cores a chip has or whether the display is 1080p.” He then responds to this with “that’s how chip and display manufacturers differentiate their products.”

 

Is this true? Not entirely. After all, how many people do you know that walk into a retail store and ask, “Where are your 1080p displays” or “which phones have full HD screen resolutions”? Most individuals do not ask these questions, but instead know companies such as HTC, Samsung, Apple, Sony, and so on – so they ask for companies instead. They may even ask for the newest smartphones available, but I’m pretty sure they’re not asking for 1080p displays when inquiring about smartphones.

 

At the same time, companies have used certain specs or features to their delight, distinguishing their trademark from those of other manufacturers. When you walk into a phone retail store and see a full aluminum metal unibody, you will likely think “That’s an HTC One,” seeing that the HTC One is the only phone with a full aluminum body on the market.

 

And, if you go into a store and see a thin and light smartphone, you will be able to know that the phone you’re holding is an Apple iPhone, since Apple prides itself on thinner and lighter smartphones than any other manufacturer on the market. And if you see a smartphone with a large camera, you will likely think “Nokia” since Nokia is famous for their large cameras. A good case in point would be Nokia’s latest, the Lumia 1020, that sports a 41-megapixel camera!

 

Arshad claims that these are just “differentiators,” but what does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that these specs and features are nothing more than mere labels? He seems to imply that these specs are boring on paper and are nothing game-changing like the Moto X: “But we’ve spent thousands of engineering hours building a new kind of processing architecture that will really change how people use their phones.” How will it change the way people use their phones?  It will most likely extend their battery life and allow them to have more hands-on time for web browsing and game playing, but will it really be a game-changer?

 

Perhaps the Moto X will, initially; after all, it is true that Motorola has devised a clever processor architecture that will likely start a new trend. Perhaps it’s time that manufacturers in Android pay more attention to battery life than ever before. Maybe battery life will become the new frontier of Android smartphones with top specs (perhaps battery life will have greater priority in the future than it does now). At the same time, however, what is a game-changer today will likely be an industry standard in five years.

 

This means that touchless controls are nothing more than an evolution in voice command (in which we already program our phones with commands and ask them to open applications, send emails, etc.), and battery life improvements are considered by many to be incremental to the current efforts to improve battery life. Waterproofing, as done by Samsung (GS4 Active) and Sony (Xperia Z) may indeed be a game-changer for the smartphone industry, but it will likely become a standard within the next few years as well.

 

Since technology is moving at the speed of light, it is unlikely that Motorola’s multiple processors will change the way humans use their phones – such that the Moto X provides an experience that other phones do not. If Motorola could use a dual-processor and yet have excellent battery life on the Moto X, how much easier of a task will it be for manufacturers that employ quad-core processors in their smartphones?

 

Motorola has put forth a good effort in the Moto X, but it didn’t achieve something that no other manufacturer can achieve. In fact, most manufacturers will employ processor architecture and eventually shut down this part of the Moto X appeal.

 

If we return to the traditional car vs. the Tesla analogy of Arshad, we can say that, without the traditional standards, we can’t place an electric car in proper perspective. When an electric car is the first of its kind on the market, the traditional car is all that consumers can compare the electric car to.

 

The same can be said for the Moto X: since Arshad seems to believe it is a game-changer, it can’t exist on the market without being compared to the smartphones that have come before it and around it. How can it be called “the first of its kind” if there is nothing to compare it to? In this regard, the Moto X needs smartphones such as the GS4, HTC One, iPhone 5, and LG Optimus G Pro as much as these smartphones need to have ties to the Moto X. The competition these phones pose each other is important so that consumers can have better smartphones each year. Competition is always good for the consumer.

 

While Arshad says that people “who are trained to look at processor cores, the number of pixels per inch, and whether or not it has 1080p screen resolution have no frame of reference,” this is not necessarily true. After all, the Moto X has processor cores, pixels per inch, and 720p screen resolution – so it’s rather self-refuting to say that people who notice these specs can’t categorize the Moto X. Multiple processors in addition to the processor cores do not place a phone in a different category.

 

Why Does the Moto X Lack 1080p Screen Resolution?

 

Marguerite Reardon goes on to attack the 720p screen resolution of the Moto X, using the LG G2 (just introduced last week) to show that most new smartphones have 1080p video recording and screen resolution. She also points out that the GS4 beats out the Moto X when it comes to pixel density (441ppi vs. 312ppi, respectively). Arshad’s response is as follows:

 

“First of all, what Samsung has done with the GS4 screen is not true 1080P. Instead, Samsung is using a PenTile display. Each pixel is made up of three-color sub pixels. It’s missing one of the pixels. We are using a true RGB (red-green-blue) pattern custom display that gives true color reproduction without wasting battery life” [Iqbal Arshad, quoted by Marguerite Reardon, “Top Motorola Engineer defends Moto X specs (Q&A); CNET].

 

According to Talk Android’s Robert Nazarian, who reviewed the GS4, he made the point that 1080p displays drain battery life more than 720p displays. Motorola decided to use an inferior display (in my opinion, if not others) in order to conserve battery life. That is admirable; however, at the same time, could Motorola have included a 1080p display on the Moto X and still maintained excellent battery life?

 

Yes. Considering that Motorola placed multiple processors in the phone’s engine, I don’t think 1080p would have killed battery life that much. Even if you only got 16 hours of battery life out of the Moto X instead of 24, would it make that much difference to the average consumer? Considering that most individuals work 8 hours a day and then go home, I doubt losing 8 hours of battery life would matter that much.

 

It’s interesting that Arshad wants to stress how great of a standard battery life is while attempting to discredit the other industry standards regarding smartphones: 1080p displays, quad-core processors, etc. If one standard is disqualified, then all are. Arshad can’t dismiss the other standards while trying to uphold a standard of increased battery life.

 

 Moto X Phone Conclusion

 

I think that people are programmed to understand that smartphone standards change each year, and that phones are supposed to gain in what they have to offer, rather than retreat from current standards. In this regard, the Moto X must be examined in light of 2013 specs – even if it is found lacking.

 

Looking back on Iqbal Arshad’s CNET interview, I found it hard to read because he seems to want to discredit major giants like Samsung and HTC (although not doing as well these days) in order to make Motorola look good. Motorola is a baby to the smartphone revolution, and the company must learn that humility is the way. Entering into this interview and bashing companies like Samsung and HTC is not the way to garner respect. While I was intrigued to read the interview, I finished reading it and felt as though Arshad was completely out of line.

 

In life, newcomers must never assume they know more about the ins and outs of something than veterans in the field. In this case, Motorola is the rookie basketball player who is trying to tell the other “veterans” (HTC, Samsung) how to run court drills. The problem with this scenario is that Motorola has yet to earn respect in the smartphone arena.

 

It is the rookie who must learn and adhere to industry standards before it can create new ones (such as processor architecture). Samsung came in humbly, and has won the hearts of consumers. Motorola, on the other hand, is taking the opposite effect right now with the Moto X – and I don’t think this approach will help the struggling company. Motorola must now learn a thing or two from Google.

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