If this is the Moto X phone, I’m not sure I understand Google’s strategy

Another leaked photo of the alleged Moto X phone is making the rounds, today showing up on Phone Arena. The pictured device lines up nicely with earlier rumors and FCC reports of the handset, and although the image hasn’t been confirmed as official, Motorola has publicly stated that a Moto X phone is coming this summer.

Moto X phone

I’m actually hoping that the phone pictured, along with some of the reported specifications, isn’t the actual Moto X. If it is, I can’t say that I understand what Google(s goog) is doing with Motorola, which it purchased in 2011 for $12.5 billion.

Let me preface my thoughts by saying I’m basing them on what I’m hearing about the phone. It’s entirely possible that the specs and images are for a different Motorola phone coming soon. Even so, Google really hasn’t made it clear yet on what its strategy is with Motorola, which led me to think about it.

What the reported Moto X looks to me is very non-inspiring for starters — again, assuming that it’s the real deal. Phone Arena expects this 4.7-inch phone to have a 720p display, 2 GB of memory, 16 GB of storage capacity and a dual-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon(s qcom) chip. Support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi is also expected. And, thankfully, there’s no sign of Motorola’s old skin; this looks to be a pure and plain Android 4.2.2 device.

But don’t those already exist?

Google already has its own Nexus brand of phones; the $349 Nexus 4 offers much the same as what’s expected in the Moto X and it’s eight months old. Newer flagship phones are more expensive but are more capable and have moved into the 1080p screen territory. “Ah, but those have TouchWiz, Sense or other skins,” you might say. True, but Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One are expected to be on sale today in Google Experience versions; no skins.

Stock Galaxy S 4

So what’s the point of a Moto X if it has the specs we’re hearing?

The phone is likely to be filled with sensors, much like most other smartphones these days. But Motorola is working on taking advantage of the sensors more than other Android hardware partners are. Speaking at D11, Motorola’s CEO Dennis Woodside noted the phone — a “hero” device, he says — will have more contextual smarts:

We know when it’s in your pocket, we know when it’s in your hand, it’s going to know when you want to take a picture and fire up the cameras… The device will know when you’re in the car and it’s moving at 60mph and you’ll interact with it differently, more safely.

That sounds innovative, but again, some of this type of functionality already exists. Various smartphones know when they’re in your pocket — ambient light sensors determine this — or when you’re moving, and can take appropriate actions. Motorola’s SmartAction software, available in some current handsets, support this as well. So is this just going to be an incremental improvement of that software?

Again, I hope not. Instead of using some of last year’s hardware and improving existing software, I’d really like to see Motorola hit one out of the park on its first real swing after the Google acquisition. Sure, other Motorola handsets launched after the Google purchase, but hardware design cycles can be lengthy; this is likely the first real Motorola phone with any Google input.

Where does Motorola fit in?

Although this is a Motorola branded phone, Google still has to fit it into its product portfolio. If it’s not a Nexus device, nor a “Google Experience” phone, then what exactly will the Moto X bring to the table? And regardless of what it does, will that mean other Android devices won’t get the same types of features and sensor support in software?

We’ll likely see soon, since we’re in the summer season and the Moto X will debut in the near term. For now, I’m still trying to understand how Motorola fits into Google’s grand plans and how Moto X will be a “flagship phone” as Motorola has proclaimed. As it stands now, I suspect it will be a flagship in the low- to mid-budget price range, if such a description makes sense.

And I’m still hoping Google takes advantage of Motorola’s MotoACTV smartwatch and turns it into a Google Now experience for the wrist. To me, that would be a better fit than another bland Android phone. We have enough of those already, thank you!