The Moto X represents the future of everything

In a few years, all phones, tablets and PCs will work just like the Moto X

By the year 2020, you'll interact with your phone, tablet, PC and TV by talking — mostly.

The Motorola Moto X Android phone.
The Motorola Moto X Android phone.

Voice interaction and artificial intelligence won't be an "app" that you "launch," then "use."

Your human-sounding virtual assistant will be "ambient" -- whether you're in the office, home, car or walking around town. You'll just talk and your virtual assistant will hear you because it will always be listening. It will have conversations with you and go off and do things for you.

Your virtual assistant will know all about you -- your preferences, history and current situation -- and use that information to interrupt you with highly relevant information and suggestions that will constantly help you. (Yes, there are privacy challenges. But solving those is a separate issue from the inevitability and desirability of voice-interaction virtual assistant interfaces.)

Today, such technology exists in rudimentary form. But it doesn't matter because people don't use it.

Today, the most popular voice-interaction virtual assistants, which are Apple's Siri and Google Now, are amazing resources that hardly anyone really uses. Even occasional users don't understand all they can do -- especially Google Now.

And Google Now is getting more capable all the time. Google is reportedly testing "hyper-local" news -- information about your neighborhood and even street. Other reports suggest Google Now will be involved in home automation applications.

But no matter how good Google Now gets, it doesn't matter if people don't use it.

And that's why the Moto X is a revolutionary smartphone. It's the first product that I believe will mainstream everyday voice interaction with an artificial intelligence virtual assistant.

The Moto X is a time machine that transports you to the future. It lets you interact with your phone like you're living in the year 2020.

Don't be distracted by the Moto X's non-revolutionary features

Motorola unleashed a lot of new information this week about the Moto X -- it's enough to make us miss what really matters.

For example, you're going to hear about how you can custom-design your phone on the "Moto Maker" site, and how it will be built in the U.S. in a highly automated, 480,000-square-foot factory and shipped to you within four days. You'll be distracted by the 10-megapixel "Clear Pixel" camera and fast, wrist-turning gesture to instantly launch the camera (originally called "quickdraw" internally at Motorola) and a minimalist camera user interface.

These and many other cool features will be balanced against various perceived downsides -- for example, the screen is much smaller than some of the newer Android phones. You'll hear from some that the Moto X is an unexciting, middle-of-the-road phone because it's not bigger or faster than some other phones on the market. You'll hear complaints that it's a U.S.-only phone.

In other words, not understanding what the Moto X represents, the "experts" and influencers will get bogged down in ordinary conversations about ordinary smartphone functions and features.

Don't be distracted. Like the Apple iPhone in 2007, which introduced the public to the multi-touch user interface, the Moto X represents the future of not only smartphones, but of all computing.

Just as the iPhone was the product that launched the interface revolution of the last seven years, the Moto X is the product that will define the next seven years.

The one Moto X feature that changes everything: The X8 processor

The Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System is a Motorola-customized Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM system-on-a-chip.

The Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System is the first mobile chipset optimized for Google services. It never stops paying attention.

The "8" in X8 refers to eight theoretical processor components, which is more about branding than processor architecture.

In reality, the X8 is a high-powered but fairly standard mobile phone CPU and GPU arrangement, plus two very non-standard and very powerful capabilities, both of which allow the phone to always pay attention to you and the environment without killing the battery.

The X8's Contextual Computing Processor is really a battery-optimized set of electronics and sensors that makes Google Now more aware of your phone's surroundings. The most astonishing of these abilities is low-power location awareness. As you know, turning on your phone's "location services" drains your battery. But the X8 keeps the phone updated about your location while drawing very little juice.

That means, for example, you can tell Google Now to remind you to pick up your dry cleaning, but only when you're near the cleaners. The Moto X doesn't need to be "on" in order for this to happen.

This chip will know when the phone is in a pocket or purse, and when it's on the table or in your hand -- even when it's in a deep, battery-conserving sleep.

Hands-free Google Now

The other revolutionary X8 feature involves microprocessor electronics for hands-free Google Now. If the user turns on the feature (it's off by default), the X8 enables your phone to always be listening through the microphone for the command "OK, Google Now," which wakes up the phone and instantly prepares it for your next command. It also handles noise cancellation and speech recognition.

The system also enables you to "train" the phone to respond especially well and exclusively to your voice. That means if you and your spouse each have a Moto X and both phones are on the table, your Google Now commands will be executed only via your phone even though the other phone can hear you.

This waking up and giving commands business can be done with the phone in your hand, on the desk, on the car seat next to you or on a table 15 feet away.

Unlike previous implementations of Google Now, which is currently an app that requires you to "launch" it with a screen gesture and which relays your voice to my butt for processing, the X8 does some, most or all voice processing right there in the hardware without touching an app or even waking up the phone.

Google Now is faster because the phone is already listening. It's faster because the processing is done locally. And it's faster because the voice electronics make it more accurate.

Note that this stuff is not some interface gimmick or parlor trick like so many features being touted on high-end smartphones these days. This technology removes obstacles between your brain and Google's brain. This is real empowerment.

(Of course, Motorola's Droid line, announced last week and including new versions of the Droid Mini, Ultra and Maxx, also have the X8. But those phones are a continuation of Motorola's ill-fated target-the-geeks strategy -- young males who like science fiction. The Moto X, on the other hand, is the Google Phone for everybody -- men, women, children, business people -- and will therefore having a broad-based cultural impact.)

There's more.

The Moto X can not only pay attention to its location and context and listen to you for voice commands, it also enables the checking of notifications, messages and the time without you touching it.

Motorola calls it their Active Display. Because the Moto X uses an AMOLED screen, the phone is able to turn on only a minority of the pixels normally lit up without wasting battery power on the rest of the pixels, and those only intermittently. The time, plus any recent notifications, automatically and constantly fade into view, then fade back to black. To check this information, just look at your phone.

You'd think that "always on" notifications would drain the battery. It turns out the opposite is true. One of the biggest battery drains today is caused by users constantly firing up the full smartphone display every 30 minutes to check the time and for notifications. The Moto X will give that information without waking up, which makes the battery last longer.

The X8 turns the Moto X smartphone into the phone equivalent of a wearable computer -- like Google Glass. In fact, the technology that makes the Moto X unique was originally developed for wearable computing.

A senior Motorola executive told me that it was developed for Motorola's smartwatch initiatives -- probably the fitness oriented wristwatch, the MOTOACTV, and possibly the company's rumored upcoming smartwatch. The Moto X's best technology is literally wearable computing technology built into a smartphone.

And, really, what's the difference between using Google Glass and Moto X?

What's the difference between saying "OK, Google Now: How do you say 'where is the stadium' in Japanese?" and starting that same request with "OK, Glass." It's pretty much the same behavior and exactly the same answer delivered the same way: By voice combined with a visual representation. They're both voice interactions. They're both fast. And they're both hands-free.

The Moto X is Google Glass, but in a smartphone.

The Moto X is not about convenience

Wearable computing critics slam the coming wearable revolution by saying: "What's so hard about pulling a phone out of your pocket?" -- as if Google Glass and smartwatches existed only as a minor convenience for lazy people.

They're completely missing the point.

Wearable computing technology in general, and the Moto X in particular, are about changing your mental state for the better. They're about removing the psychological barriers between questions and answers, brain and computer, human and machine.

Google's Knowledge Based feels a little less like information you're looking up and more like knowledge you already have. Your phone feels less like a gadget and more like an intelligent human who looks out for you and is always there to help.

Like prior advances in user interfaces, such as the personal computer, the graphical user interface and multi-touch computing on devices like the Apple iPad, real, hands-free interaction with Google Now -- and integrated Google services like Google+, Gmail, YouTube, Maps and all the rest -- simply feels awesome to use.

And you can't understand it until you experience it.

So don't be distracted by chatter about Moto X that treats the device like just another phone.

The Moto X is the future.

This article, The Moto X represents the future of everything, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)

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