Motorola’s Confusing “X8 Computing System” Actually Qualcomm and TI Silicon

Patrick Moorhead / September 4th, 2013

Two weeks ago, I penned the Forbes column, “Google’s Motorola Confuses Everyone With Its ‘X8 Computing System.‘ “My intention was not to ridicule or embarrass anyone, but to point out just how important it is to be factual and precise during product launches and communications.  Trust me, I have empathy as I have launched hundreds of products in my career.  I showed in the column that there were multiple press interpretations of what Motorola launched with the Moto X which caused a lot of confusion.  Additionally, I believe Motorola was taking credit for work other companies had done, which I do have a bit of an issue with.  While most end consumers don’t care about the technical details, many do, particularly the influencers, and those influencers have an impact on that typical consumer. One ambiguous piece of information when I wrote the first column was determining exactly who made the two special voice and contextual chips.  Thanks to AnandTech’s Brian Klug, we finally know.

Last week, Brian Klug wrote a very positive review of the Moto X.  Through his analysis, he uncovered a few things.

On the contextual processor core, Brian writes,

“This stowage and contextual awareness detection comes through fusion of the accelerometer, gyro, and ambient light sensor data on a TI MSP430 controller which enables most of the active display features from what I can tell. These then are exposed as flat down, flat up, stowed, docked, and the camera activation (flick) gesture. The MSP430 also surfaces its own temperature sensor to the rest of Android, which is nifty (the Moto X has an accelerometer, gyro, pressure sensor, compass, and the MSP430’s temp sensor).

On the natural language processor core, he writes,

“Anyhow I spent some time tracking down what is responsible for the voice activation feature as well, and it turns out there’s a TI C55x family DSP onboard the Moto X, probably one similar to this. It’s easy to see the MSP430 references without much digging, the C55x references are referenced in an aov_adspd (activate on voice, dsp daemon?) application, and then inside the two aonvr1,2 firmware files that are loaded presumably onto the C55x at boot. The C55x runs this lower power (sub 1 mW) voice recognition service and wakes up the AP when it hears it, I believe it also does noise rejection.”

As I have worked closely with AnandTech since its inception, I can say they usually have their facts straight, so I will take this as near-fact.

As further confirmation, AllThingsD’s Arik Hesseldahl confirms the TI connection with his article discussing a recent IHS tear-down report.  Arik reports,

“The main chip inside the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, which IHS estimates costs $28. That chip has been combined with two chips from Texas Instruments that handle gestures and listen for spoken commands from the user, which cost between $4 and $5 together.”

OK, so the Motorola branded ‘X8 Computing System’ is comprised of Qualcomm and Texas Instruments silicon. I think this is a very good example of heterogeneous computing, which is a good thing, but the silicon is so very not Motorola.

You may be wondering, “do consumers care about silicon details” or “why shouldn’t Motorola re-brand the silicon they bought and integrated”?

Most consumers could care less about the silicon their phones have, but the precision of the communication does matter to influencers.  As we have seen over the years, communication about new products spreads quickly, particularly over social networks and the web.  The social glitterati many times make up their minds during the product launch they are watching, tweeting and posting away.  The general consumer injests this either directly or by retweets or reposts on social media sites and, based on research I’ve seen at OEMs, pay attention when they’re in the buying state of mind.  While some marketeers call it “buzz” or “intrigue”, you don’t want any ambiguity in your product launches.  This is why Apple is so precise during product launches.

Apple, during their product launches, is very precise with every word is communicated.  They know that ambiguity leads to a pause, and every pause takes away from understanding.  If there is ambiguity on the facts, Apple is quick to follow up afterwards with their specially chosen press corps.  This precision helps focus the social glitterati on the key messages Apple wants reinforced, and not the side-shows debating what Apple really said or meant.

In the end, I believe Motorola’s “less than precise” explanation of their “X8 Computing System,” which is comprised of Qualcomm and TI silicon, played against them.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
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