Android Influencer Motorola’s Seang Chau Chats Bloatware and Motorola’s Lack Thereof

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 11 Jun 2015

Bloatware is absolutely the worst. And though we all hate it, it has somehow become an expected byproduct of being an Android user. Most manufacturers don’t limit how many different apps and software modifications they bundle with a new device.
But one company that’s been remarkably consistent about avoiding bloatware and excessive interface skins is Motorola. It’s stayed committed to putting forth bloat-free, mostly-stock Android devices while also building in features that its users will actually use. I spent some time chatting with Motorola’s Senior Vice President of software engineering, Seang Chau. About the bloatware problem and how Motorola manages not to fall into the bloatware trap. Chau said he’s committed to keeping Motorola’s products clean. He assured me Lenovo’s acquisition won’t change the company’s stance on skinning Android.
    

Software is a big deal in the world of Android, even though Android’s mobile operating system is open source. Motorola’s goal with the Android OS? And what motivates it to keep its version of Android close to Androids? 


Chau
: Our goal is to make the most responsible assistive smartphones in the world, so we put a lot of emphasis on understanding in-depth how people use their smartphones throughout the day. We’ll look at everything they do at every step and ask ourselves, how can we improve this?
You’d be surprised at how often the answer to those questions is to not do anything. Don’t change the color of the status bar. Don’t skin the email application, lock screen, Home screen, or launcher. If users want their application screens to look different, they’ll download the app they want. Android’s great flexibility lets you do this. Something I think they nailed with their “be together, not the same” slogan.
“If users want their application screens to look different, they’ll download the app they want.”
The benefit of not trying to change everything is that we can give our users a high-performance phone. That leaves as much memory storage as possible for their own app content, with a battery that lasts. Then, we can focus our efforts on areas where we can make a tangible difference in improving the experience. Visually, our smartphones are like pure Android. But under the hood, we’ve made hundreds of enhancements that enable them to run faster and use less power on our hardware. That lets us do things like creating the Moto E, which is inexpensive yet more responsive than phones that cost three times as much. It also lets us focus on things like Moto Voice or Quick Capture. Enable things that Android itself cannot do that come back to making things users do daily work better.

How do you decide what kind of features to include in Motorola’s version of Android? Moto Voice, for instance: How did that come to be? 

Chau: That comes from observation, coupled with insights. Let me use both Moto Voice and Moto Display as examples:
If you follow a heavy smartphone user around all day, you’ll notice that they check their phones all the time. They fear missing out, which leads to constantly checking our phones for notifications. It’s a reasonably involved process: Take the phone out of your purse or pocket and open the display. Unlock it if necessary to see if anything important has come up. This means putting your phone in the home, clicking it on, and looking at the lock screen to see if anything important came up.
Asked ourselves how we could make this interaction easier. The answer was to provide enough information about notifications on the display of a sleeping phone, so you’d know if you needed to wake and unlock it. It takes a combination of hardware and software to make this work in a way that doesn’t impact battery life. The result is a phone that is more useful because it surfaces important information while asleep.
In the Moto Voice, the question was a bit different. We asked ourselves how we could make your phone more useful in situations where you simply don’t have your hands available, or your phone is out of reach. This could be more natural than talking to it. Moto Display is a combination of software hardware that builds on Android complementary rather than competing with or obscuring it.

Where do you start when you’re thinking of new, exciting software features to add to Motorola’s phones? How do you field ideas? 

Chau:  Believe that your smartphone should take care of you, making your life easier. But suppose you think about how you interact with using your phone today. In that case, you might come to the opposite conclusion that you are actually your phone’s caretaker. It never learns who you are or optimizes itself for your routines. It’s programmed how someone decides you should use it. Your allegedly “smart” phone has no idea what you are doing right now, nor does it care. It will either ring, beep, or notify you of this or that. And we’re now conditioned, like Pavlov’s dog, to check it right away because we might have missed something.
Put a lot of emphasis on ideas that enable your Motorola phone to self-configure for you, so it can indeed be the most personal device in the world. Our motto is “power to choose,” which goes beyond personalizing the look of the device, though we’re pretty proud of that. Software such as Moto Assist is designed to personalize itself for you automatically so the phone can genuinely be more brilliant, therefore, more helpful and responsive. You’re finding that people really like this; it’s a big part of why they now recommend our phones to others. Believe that your smartphone should take care of you, making your life easier.

There’s some fear from diehard Android users now that Lenovo and Motorola are in business together. We’ll start seeing some of Lenovo’s Android skin spilling over into Motorola’s product department. Is it a possibility? 

Chau: I have a lot of respect for what Lenovo has done. They’ve returned the favor by supporting our software product strategy. They like what we’re doing. They think it’s the right thing for us. We have no plans to adopt a skin. Still, we’re open to leveraging key aspects of Lenovo’s technology capabilities that help us build better products that deliver on our vision.

What’s the real story behind that? Is there anything you can tell us about the Lenovo Motorola partnership regarding software? 

Chau: In areas where Lenovo is strong or has built capabilities Motorola hasn’t, we would look for ways to leverage their work. But Motorola has been making Android devices for over six years. Are you getting very good at fine-tuning and measuring performance quality? Even our former parents in Mountain View learned something from us. Lenovo has been really open about learning from our experience.

How long have you been an Android user?

Chau: I’ll make many early Android adopters envious. My first Android device was the HTC G1, the first commercial Android device that debuted in 2008. But I switched to the Motorola Cliq shortly after that.

How many phones are you sporting now?

Chau: I’m carrying three: the second generation Moto G, a Moto X with beautiful red Horween leather, and a Sapphire Blue Droid Turbo.

What’s your favorite Motorola feature? Past or present?

Chau: Our focus on battery life and fast charging have to be my favorite. If your phone’s battery is dead, other features don’t really matter.

What is one app that you absolutely cannot live without?

Chau: Like most Californians, I drive a lot, which makes Maps with turn-by-turn directions integrated with Waze traffic information priceless. The other application I use every day is GroupMe. I have my extended family on group chats that keep us closer and more informed than ever.