Why the ‘disappointing’ Moto X specs excite me

Once upon a time, the word “smartphone” was synonymous with the phrase high end. If you owned a smartphone, you owned an expensive phone. If you didn’t, you had a feature phone. Some of you may find this hard to believe, but yes, there was a time when there were $399 phones out there that did almost nothing but phone calls and text messages.

But that was then, and this is now. Some of us still say “smartphone”, but what we really mean is “phone”. For $130, you can buy a Nokia Lumia 521 running Windows Phone in the United States. For $50, you can buy an Android phone in Shenzhen, China that may or may not kick the bucket of six months of moderate use. The only people who really buy feature phones, or “dumb phones” in industry parlance, are those who either don’t care about the mobile internet or those who live in a country where $50 amounts to half a year’s savings.

During the weekend, the anonymous Twitter user @evleaks revealed the specs of Motorola’s upcoming “X Phone”. He (or she!) says it has dual core 1.7 GHz processor, 720p screen, and 2 GB of memory. Those specs were considered high end in early 2012, but today they’re the pure definition of midrange. For some strange reason, this has a lot of people “disappointed”, but as for me, I’m excited.

Let’s step back. Since smartphones are no longer considered “high end”, it doesn’t do anyone any good to talk about smartphone saturation levels. Instead, let’s talk about tiers. High end phones, your iPhone 5s and Galaxy S4s, devices that cost at least 500 EUR, there are only so many people alive who can afford them. You’ve got folks in the United States who don’t understand subsidies, you have people in Europe who are currently enjoying a high standard of living, and then you have the middle class who buy expensive phones as a way to show members of their community that they have some sort of wealth.

That high end segment of the market, that’s saturated or near saturated. The “other half”, as I like to call them, are people who live in America, people who live in Europe, and the Asian middle class, who don’t necessarily want to blow 500 Euros on a phone, but they do want to enjoy the mobile internet and all it brings.

This is where midrange phones come into play. Devices that ideally cost, at most, $300. That’s the price point that analysts want Apple to hit with their “cheap iPhone”. That’s the price point Samsung is hitting with devices like the Galaxy S III mini or Galaxy S II Plus.

With the Moto X, Motorola (technically Google) isn’t trying to out engineer Samsung, because they can’t. They don’t have access to high end components. They’re not trying to out build Apple either, because they don’t have access to the expensive precision equipment needed to manufacture an iPhone. Instead, they’re trying to build the best damn midrange phone on the planet, and for that I commend them.

When you stop and think about, the pace of progress in the mobile industry is astounding. Just two years ago, the Galaxy S II made everyone’s jaw drop. It had a large (at the time) 4.3 inch AMOLED screen, dual core processor, more RAM than one knew how to deal with, and an 8 megapixel camera. Today, that same phone, brand new, sells for half of what it did in 2011.

The exact same thing is going to happen in two years with the Galaxy S4. It’s hard to imagine, but in the not too distant future, 1080p screens, 13 megapixel cameras, quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 equipped phones will cost $299 or even less.

So yes, the Moto X might annoy you spec junkies out there, but the phone isn’t for you. It’s for everyone else. It’s for people who watch the iPhone 5 and GS4 commercials on TV and want a taste of the innovation currently taking place in mobile, but don’t want to break the bank to do so.

For that, I applaud the device, despite knowing absolutely nothing about it.