Google's Motorola is said to be working on a flagship Android phone, dubbed the X Phone project, and it's going all out with it. It's been looking at bendable displays, ceramic casing and everything in between to try to make the phone stand out.The phone is slated to land next year, though Google is still mostly experimenting with new features and technologies. A tablet is said to follow the phone.
When Google acquired Motorola, it ensured everyone that it wouldn't be getting any preferential treatment and, to date, it hasn't.
Motorola phones are running Android versions closer to the stock one, they're getting updates faster and come with Chrome pre-installed, but they're still not top-of-the-line and don't sell very well.
In fact, Samsung now accounts for around half of all Android phone sales. Motorola is at the bottom of the list.
You could argue that it doesn't really matter to Google, it doesn't make any money from Android, it makes money from the ads it runs on Android devices, on the web and in apps.
But that's only true if people stick to the regular version of Android, which is increasingly not the case. Amazon was the only Android tablet maker to sell any meaningful number of devices, but it was running a forked version of Android.
The Kindle Fire scared Google quite a bit and for good reason. A few months later, the Nexus 7 came about and became the first stock Android tablet to sell well. The Nexus 10 probably won't be as successful, but at least Google stemmed the tide.
Things are better when it comes to phones, for now. Samsung runs a heavily skinned version of Android on its phones, but at least it's a proper Android, with the Play Store and everything else. But what if Samsung decided to fork Android and come up with its own version?
It's not likely, and it's going to be a tough sell, but Samsung has the money and the sales numbers to try something like this. If anything, it gives Samsung a big leverage when negotiating with Google, so it could push it to add features to Android or make changes and so on.
Google doesn't want any one company having so much power over its platform, so the Google X phone has more to do with providing a flagship Android device with a pure Google experience than with taking on Apple.
Samsung forking Android isn't as farfetched as it may seem, though it won't be easy, for some very big reasons; it would have to give up the Play Store and any Google app. Samsung would have to build its own app store and that's a big challenge.
Granted, apps for Android will work on Samsung's version, so developers won't have to make different ones. But Samsung buyers will also have to make do without Google Now, YouTube, Gmail or Google Maps. Considering that not even Apple can pull this off, it's hard to imagine Samsung doing any better.