Surprise! The $179 Moto G hits the US early

CNET talks to Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside about his hopes for the low-cost Moto G, and why the higher-end Moto X is like a Corvette.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read
Watch this: The Motorola Moto G is a colourful bargain

Motorola Mobility apparently couldn't wait for its low-cost Moto G to hit the States.

The Moto G went on sale in the US on Tuesday, available only in the GSM variant and unlocked on Motorola.com for $179 without a contract.

The surprise launch comes well ahead of the company's previously planned target of getting the Moto G out in the US by January. Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside told CNET that early demand for the phone has been strong overseas. The company was able to ramp up the manufacturing process faster than anticipated, and it was able to get the Web site up faster, allowing for the early release of the phone. By launching now, Motorola also takes advantage of the holiday shopping season.

That doesn't take away from its plans for the first quarter. Motorola's carrier and retail partners will launch the Moto G in January, just in time to take advantage of the traditionally strong prepaid market early in the year. While Verizon Wireless has committed to selling the Moto G for its prepaid brand, Woodside said the LTE-less phone would get "broad distribution" with multiple partners. (He declined to name names.)

"We were always gearing up for a big first quarter, but we think we'll have success this quarter as well," Woodside said.

Moto G is the low-cost brother to the more ambitious Moto X, which is primarily sold in the US and stands out because customers can tweak how the device looks with different colors and accents.

The Moto G, however, could end up selling better because it already has a broad array of partners around the world, and the phone's price tag is attractive given the quality of the device.

The flagship Moto X smartphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Woodside declined to comment on sales volume of the Moto X, but he did note the challenges that come from building a brand from scratch.

"It's like launching the Corvette for the first time," he said. "It takes a little while for people to know what the Corvette stands for and to decide if it's right for them."

Regardless of the sales, Woodside understands that positioning the Moto X for success is a long game. He said the Moto Maker capability has helped spur interest in the device, and noted that nearly 1 million people visited Motorola's Web site to tinker with the customization tool. Even if that interest doesn't translate into immediate sales, it does build awareness. He said anyone hardly visited the Motorola site before Google took it over.

Neither the Moto G nor Moto X are sold in China, a result of the Chinese government's ban on Google services, which flow into its phones. Woodside wouldn't close the door on Motorola phones making a comeback in China -- they previously had a strong position in the market, and the brand still holds some sway there -- but he said there were no plans to pursue that region.

As for the future of the Moto X franchise, he said the next step in customization will be the color, finish, and material of the phones. Ultimately, he would like to offer consumers the ability to choose their own screen size, processor speed, and memory, but he said there are a lot of complications and a lack of standards to make it all work. The company is only beginning to create those standards now.

Motorola's Project Ara is the company's push to get to that ultimate goal, but Woodside's comments suggest that's still a long way off.

Motorola Moto G, a quad-core smartphone for $179 unlocked (pictures)

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As for more immediate possibilities, Woodside talked about tablets, noting that "it is always something we're looking at," but said that the company wouldn't put out a product unless it could put a different spin on it.

"There's some exploration, but nothing we can talk about right now," he said.

Lastly, Woodside weighed in on the possibility of Motorola creating a Nexus phone. He is open to working with his parent company's Android team, and doesn't believe it crosses a line for Motorola to participate. But for now, it doesn't appear as if Motorola is in the running for a Nexus device.

"That's something that's more a conversation for (Android, Chrome, and Google apps chief Sundar Pichai)," he said.