News by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday August 13, 2013.
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The Moto X hasn't even made it in stores yet, but Android fans are already clamoring for a Google Play edition. That was to be expected considering that people acted the same way when LG debuted its G2 phone last week. However, there's a big difference between what someone could expect to see in a standard LG G2 and an LG G2 Google Play edition. The same cannot be said for Motorola phones, so why should anyone care?
On Sunday, well-known podcaster Leo Laporte said on his TWiT podcast that Motorola employee Guy Kawasaki told him the Moto X sold in Google Play would not be a Google edition phone. Phandroid highlighted the comments today and that sent many into a tizzy. Kawasaki's comments went against the rumors that appeared after Motorola's official announcement earlier this month, with multiple outlets all claiming that a GP Moto X is forthcoming. So who should be believed: multiple unnamed sources or the guy who has a direct comment from someone whose name is next to the statement?
It doesn't matter who is right; the real question is why should people want a Moto X Google Play Edition at all? The entire point of a Google Play phone is to introduce a way for Android's most vocal advocates of stock Android to get the best hardware available without having to put up with the manufacturer's custom take on Android. Customers would have to give up on IR blasters and widgets with the HTC One, and they would abandon the Smart Pause and many camera modes with the Samsung Galaxy S 4. In exchange, those customers would get a mostly unaltered version of Android that lead to leaner performance, less intrusive design, and arguably better software. A price had to be paid but the sacrifice is well-worth it for the most vocal critics of Android "skins."
Perhaps people pining for a Moto X Google Play edition should taker a closer look at the phone and see that it already meets that criteria. There is no gaudy UI overlay or resource-draining customization on the level of Samsung Touchwiz or HTC Sense. It's as close to stock Android as one can get without having stock Android. A Google Play Moto X would be just like the version purchased at a carrier except it would replace the current camera app with the standard Android version, which isn't much of an upgrade, and might lose its always-listening Google Now feature. (Motorola has made it clear that its Google Now wake feature is not a standard part of Android, but because the HTC One managed to keep Beats Audio in its GP edition, Motorola could do the same.)
There's only one reason that someone could possibly think a Google Play Moto X is a good idea - updates. The Moto X currently runs Android 4.2 instead of Android 4.3. Motorola plans to upgrade the device but hasn't said when. It might take longer because of the involvement of carriers slowing down the update process, something that will keep most Android phones running older software longer than users would prefer. A Google Play edition update can be considerably faster, as evidenced by the HTC One GP on AT&T getting updated 8 days after Google released Android 4.3 to its Nexus devices.
I'm not so sure Motorola, a subsidiary of Google, would benefit from a similar situation. Google partners with manufacturers to work on the code ahead of time so they are able to quickly release updates. HTC cannot reasonably expect to update devices within days of release if Google doesn't provide a heads-up. Google has been more than willing to not give a heads-up to Motorola in order to avoid the appearance of favoritism or anti-competitiveness. Motorola executives claim they didn't even know what Android 4.3 would offer until the code was publicly released last month. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Google avoids a Google Play edition for any Motorola product so that it can maintain the separation it claims is necessary to run Motorola without giving the subsidiary an advantage over other Android manufacturers.
Americans will get their first look at the Moto X later this month. When or if they will see a Google Play edition is a matter up for debate. By the time the dust settles, I'm not sure how many people will be left to care.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.