Sat, Aug 03, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Google to offer custom ‘Made in US’ phones


An attendee on Thursday inspects the Motorola Mobility Moto X smartphone at a launch event in New York.

Photo: Bloomberg

With its first smartphone designed completely in-house, Google Inc is demonstrating one of the benefits of moving production from Asia to the US: It is letting buyers customize phones to give them their own style.

Workers at the factory in Fort Worth, Texas, assemble the custom phone and Google ships it to the buyer’s door within four days.

The Moto X is going on sale in about a month via all four US national wireless carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — starting at US$200.

Initially, only AT&T will offer the customization option, but Google said it hopes to make it available across all carriers soon. The company will offer 18 different back covers ranging in color from “spearmint” to “cabernet,” a choice of black or white fronts and seven different metallic accents for details like the volume button. That makes for 252 possible style variations of the handset.

The Moto X is the first smartphone to be assembled in the US. Even though the concept of the smartphone was pioneered there and many phones have been designed in the US, the vast majority of phones are assembled in Asia.

The Fort Worth factory will let Google stamp the phone as “Made in the US,” but assembly is just the last step in the manufacturing process, and accounts for relatively little of the cost of a smartphone. The cost largely lies in the chips, battery and display, most of which come from Asian factories. However, Google sees other value in a US factory.

“Over time, by having the engineers closer to the factory floor, we’ll be able to innovate faster and develop products that actually are quite interesting down the road,” said Dennis Woodside, head of Google’s Motorola division.

The factory is owned and run by Flextronics International Ltd, a Singapore-based contract electronics manufacturer and is set to employ 2,000 people.

Google bought Motorola Mobility for US$12.4 billion last year. While it launched some phones after the acquisition, they were designed while Motorola was still independent.

The Moto X is the first phone that “gives you some indication of how Google is thinking of hardware,” Woodside said in an interview.

Google has previously worked with other phone manufacturers to create Google-branded “Nexus” phones as launch platforms for new versions of Android.

The most unusual feature of the Moto X, apart from the customization option, is that it is always listening for its owner’s voice. When it hears the phrase: “Ok, Google now...” followed by a command like: “call Bob,” it will wake up from standby and execute the command — provided it understands it.

Most smartphones offer voice control, but it is usually activated by pressing a button.

Google is backing the launch with a big marketing campaign, including TV adverts. The Moto X represents its best chance this year to make back some of the money it spent on buying Motorola, and the US$1.7 billion the division has accumulated in operating losses since the acquisition.

Motorola has become marginalized in the global smartphone market, taking just 1 percent of recent sales, according to research firm IDC. Google has slashed Motorola’s workforce to 4,600 people, down from 20,300 last year.

The acquisition was motivated mainly by Google’s desire to own Motorola’s patent portfolio, which provides it with ammunition to defend fellow makers of Android phones from Apple Inc’s and Microsoft Corp’s patent claims.

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