Motorola ‘Moto Z’ attracts attention for new modular style

by Greyson Van Arsdale, ’17

Motorola may soon find a place among smartphone powerhouses Apple and Samsung with its new smartphones, the Moto Z and Moto Z Force.

The Moto Z is an example of a relatively new idea in tech called “modular phones.” The idea is that consumers should have the ability to customize their own phones somewhat, without sacrificing any of the sleek thinness that smartphone users have become so accustomed to.

For Motorola, the tech brand now owned by Lenovo, this means having magnetic accessories like a powerful speaker, a zoom camera, a projector, and an extra-long-life battery pack that are able to snap onto the back of the Moto Z. These are the alliteratively-named “Moto Mods.”

“Motorola invented the first mobile phone and created iconic products like the RAZR, but I’ll admit we fell back on our heels for a few years,” said Dawn MacKenzie, a Motorola representative. “Today, we’re once again delivering meaningful innovation that nobody else is offering amid a market filled with look-alike phones. We’re showing that different is better.”

But can the Moto Z compete with prominent smartphones in price? The Moto Z and Moto Z Force Droid cost $700 and $720 respectively, not much less than the iPhone 7 Plus, which rests at $770. The Samsung Galaxy S7 is also roughly $700.

While the phones themselves are comparatively priced, Motorola is encouraging customers to buy these magnetic accessories, which are around $300 each. That means that buying a Moto Z, along with a Mod, would bring the total price up to around $1000.

Motorola is by far not the first company to experiment with modularity. Earlier this year, LG released their G5 smartphone, which came with modules they called “Friends,” including several camera enhancements, a virtual reality headset, and a charging cradle.

Google also tried out modular phones with their Project Ara, a slightly more complicated approach that involved a single frame that could be filled with many different modules in 6 different slots. However, Google suspended Project Ara in September, and the phone never made it to market. The company instead released their Pixel smartphone, a non-modular design similar to the iPhones and Galaxies of years past.

It could be said that Motorola’s modular experiment has had the most success of any, as they reached a mark of one million units sold globally in early November. The tech world will be watching to see if the Moto Z falls flat, or dawns a new genre of portable technology.