Is Google getting ready to take the handcuffs off of Motorola?

The rebranding and the apparent battalions of upcoming releases could suggest a change in the air for Motorola – or not. Plus, Google Edition everything, Verizon bumbles HTC One launch, and glitzy promotions galore.

It’s finally happening – Google-backed Motorola is getting ready to plunge back into the battle for top-tier Android OEM status.  At least, thats what this week's batch of news stories and rumors suggests.

Google-watchers clucked and muttered over the search giant’s rebranding of Motorola into “Motorola: A Google company,” and the accompanying new logo helps solidify the firm’s desire to have Motorola more closely associated with the mothership.Motorola

Credit: Techiser.com

Note the familiar-looking use of primary colors. But surely a simple logo and tagline change isn’t the herald of revolution, even to the hyper-alert ranks of the technology blogosphere?

[MORE ANDROID: Report: Google at work on Android gaming console]

Not quite – but a whole raft of rumors about Motorola’s forthcoming releases unaccountably dropped around the same time, which you might expect to lead to wild speculation about the future of Moto’s role in the tense and competitive smartphone market.

A blog called TechKiddy said that it has not one, but two sets of sample pictures from “the first joint Google-Motorola handset,” the Moto X. (H/T: PhoneArena)

That device, with its apparent 10.5MP camera, was listed in EXIF data as the XT1058. But wait – another handset, this one with the designator XT1056, has also popped up in an apparently leaked picture. The valiant folks at PhoneArena simply call this one the “mysterious Motorola X phone.”

That not much is known for sure about Motorola’s coming output should be pretty obvious by now. And surprisingly, the wave of hysteria about a major sea-change in the way Motorola and Google operate that I expected never quite materialized – most sites have resisted the temptation.

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Of course, that might have something to do with the huge buzz around the new “Google Play editions” of the Android smartphone market’s two top competitors – the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. The idea is that those who want the latest and greatest non-Nexus hardware can buy versions of the GS4 and the One running stock Android directly from the Play Store.

As a long-time fan of stock Android, my initial reaction was generally positive – I mean, what's not to like? Plenty, if you're Android Police's David Ruddock, who slammed the releases as “missing the point.” He says that stock Android isn't the “Holy Grail of Awesomeness we so held it to be a year or two ago,” and that the stripped-down software actually breaks a number of cool features on both phones, like the HTC One's IR blaster and the GS4's notification toggles.

So no, these aren't the fully Nexus-ified Androids some of you may be looking for.

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Speaking of crabby editorials from the Android blogosphere, GottaBeMobile has a good one  on how badly Verizon and HTC handled the process of getting the One into the hands of consumers.

The piece correctly highlights the total absurdity of announcing a product with zero details beyond “we're going to get it at some point.” Price? Nope. Release date? Nah. Hardware changes/branding? Go to hell. It's a fatuous, though sadly not uncommon, practice in the smartphone industry, and it really should stop.

So whenever Verizon customers do wind up getting their hands on the One, it'll be months after the rest of the field and. Oh what fun.

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Marketing, increasingly, makes the smartphone world go round – big-money advertising campaigns from HTC and Samsung have hit the headlines recently. The latter company offered exclusive access to Jay-Z's upcoming Magna Carta Holy Grail to Galaxy owners, while details of a $12 million HTC promotional deal with Iron Man star Robert Downey, Jr. were reported by Bloomberg.

Those are both eyebrow-raising deals, but hey, if even BlackBerry can get Alicia Keys....

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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