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Will Google's New iPhone Killer Be a "Phone-Plus"?

By Evan Niu, CFA - Apr 16, 2013 at 10:30PM

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The search giant teases of upcoming "phones-plus" from its Motorola subsidiary. Meanwhile, a design exec talks about Moto's new philosophy. What size is "just right" for a smartphone?

Even as Microsoft isn't having much success with its "PC-Plus" strategy, now Google's (GOOGL -1.35%) taking a shot at device arithmetic.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt spoke at the AllThingsD Dive Into Mobile conference today, and referred to Motorola's upcoming devices as "phones-plus," saying that the smartphone-making subsidiary's product pipeline is "phenomenal." Schmidt was responding to a question about whether Moto's incoming devices were phones or tablets.

The tidbit is quite a tease, since "phablet" has become a part of our accepted vernacular, and presumably he would have just used that portmanteau if Motorola had some jumbo smartphones en route.

His comments also suggest that perhaps Google is getting close to draining out the uninspiring pipeline it inherited, and rumors continue to circulate about what Motorola's "X Phone" will look like. That was about all the detail investors got out of Schmidt today regarding what Googorola is planning.

A second opinion
Fortunately, a Motorola exec separately provided additional insight. Design chief Jim Wicks told PCMag that the first batch of products designed after being acquired by Google will buck the current trend toward monstrously sized devices. Instead of "bigger is better," Motorola now believes that "better is better." You don't say.

The first batch of truly Googorola phones is due out during the second half of this year, and Wicks says that the company will deliver stock Android devices with modest form factors. He believes that there's a "sweet spot" for most consumers, and the market is currently overshooting it with display sizes. Motorola is now targeting that "just right" size that's not too big. Wicks considers the RAZR M and its 4.3-inch display as an example of the "just right" size.

If the approach sounds familiar, it's because it's the same marketing message that Apple (AAPL -2.46%) has been making for the past few months with the iPhone 5. The Mac maker sells the one-handed capabilities of its new flagship, saying that "if you go large for large's sake, you end up with a phone that feels oversize, awkward, and hard to use." You can debate all day as to what the "just right" size is, but chances are it won't be close to phablet caliber for the average consumer.

Stock Android has always been a characteristic of Google's Nexus program, which taps numerous OEMs. The current lineup offers devices built from Asus, LG, and Samsung. That could also translate into increased tensions with other hardware partners, who would fear that Google is giving Motorola favorable treatment.

Many Android enthusiasts highly prefer a stock experience free from carrier and OEM software modifications. If Googorola builds it, they will buy.

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