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Google enters smartphone market

Google introduced the Moto X on Thursday. It’s the first major device released since it bought Motorola last year.

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Google introduced the Moto X on Thursday. It’s the first major device released since it bought Motorola last year.

NEW YORK — The time has come for Google, the king of online search, to show whether it has any business selling hardware.

After lackluster results selling devices made by other companies, Google is giving hardware another try — this time with a smartphone made by a company it owns. On Thursday, Motorola Mobility, the handset maker Google bought last year for $12.5 billion and then retooled, introduced the Moto X, the company’s first major device since the deal.

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The phone has all the standard features expected of today’s top smartphones, with a twist: the ability to control the phone by talking to it.

The stakes are big for Google, and not only because of the high price that it paid for Motorola. Google is enormously profitable, but its growth is slowing because of lagging ad sales. Finding success with the phone could lead to a new source of revenue and a way to get more users to view the company’s ads.

The company has been aggressive in absorbing Motorola. It put a former top executive, Dennis Woodside, in charge of Motorola, laid off thousands of Motorola workers, and formed a new team with many employees recruited from rivals, including Apple, Samsung, and Amazon. A major marketing effort is expected for the Moto X.

“I think we’ve created an awesome company,” said Iqbal Arshad, Motorola’s senior vice president of global product development.

Still, sales could be an uphill climb. The phone is landing squarely in the competitive market for high-end smartphones. And Google has a lot to prove before it is taken seriously as a hardware maker.

Motorola’s executives think they have something special with the Moto X, which will be sold by all the major US phone carriers beginning in late August or early September. It has a 4.7-inch touchscreen, which puts it right between the smaller iPhone 5 and the larger Galaxy S4 from Samsung. And it has a sophisticated camera and high-speed connections.

But what executives hope makes the Moto X stand out is its voice command capabilities — like continually listening for a user’s voice and quickly reacting to commands. Saying, “OK Google, now find me my way home” will quickly pull up a Google map with directions to a user’s house, for example. The phone learns the voice of its owner and responds only to it. Some people might find this creepy, but it is a feature that a user must turn on voluntarily.

Still, as other device makers have learned, it takes more than snazzy features to gain traction in the handset business. Samsung and Apple dominate the market, and some Asian manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE are selling low-cost smartphones and quickly gaining ground in less affluent markets.

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