Why we’re not giving the Moto X’s custom options enough credit

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Motorola has yet to go public with all the details surrounding the launch of its Moto X smartphone, but between the rumors and leaks, it sure feels like we have a decent enough picture of how the phone’s much-touted customization options will work.

The idea of presenting the user with some degree of options to help tailor the phone to his or her taste is one that’s been following the Moto X for months now – originating back when it was just known as the X phone. We’ve danced around the idea ever since, as we heard all sorts of suggestions made as to the nature of these options: would we see users choosing between screen sizes, memory capacities, and case materials?

moto-x-color-backsLast week, evidence first started turning up to answer these questions, and along with some new rumors that seemed to align with that nicely, it’s looking very likely that the extent of Moto X customization will focus on body color options and the possibility to have the phone engraved.

In one way, that’s a big disappointment – the dream of a phone with PC-like levels of hardware customization is one I’ve kept for ages – but as I reflected on the news over the past few days, I started to come around: I think that even this level of personal control over hardware could have a meaningful impact on Motorola’s relationship with its users and help build loyalty in the brand.

But It’s Just Some Plastic Cases, Right?

There’s a problem with our relationship with smartphones. Despite their advanced technology, fantastic capabilities, and often expensive price tags, many of us treat them as commodities of sorts. If something goes wrong, we pick up another one, or we just get bored with our old model and upgrade to a more-or-less random new one every couple years.

I could spend some length of time writing about what’s contributed to this situation – carrier subsidies obscuring real costs, a growing focus on services rather than hardware, unavailability of current platform updates – but for the purposes of discussing the Moto X, it’s the results that matter: a good number of users just don’t feel strong connections to their phones, and view them as a means to an end.

I feel like there’s already a decently sized subset of users who – subconsciously or not – are rebelling against this trend and taking steps to make phones “theirs.” That can take the form of stylish cases or wraps – anything that makes the user’s phone stand out from those of their peers.

That’s great to see, and more power to those users, but it’s still a bit lacking. For one, it’s not really phone-specific. That is, you might like Otterbox cases as much for their looks as the protection they offer, but you can still be the guy with a camouflage-colored case as easily with an HTC One as a Galaxy S 4.

moto-x-greenNow, maybe these Moto X options will spread to other phones – there’s already talk of a European Motorola Android that might end up mirroring some aspects of the Moto X’s design – but for now it’s going to be the only kid on the block with a crazy assortment of factory-supplied options like this (or at least, the only one being sold to markets outside Asia).

That from-the-factory bit is key. These aren’t going to be phones that have been customized after the fact – these are, so far as the user is concerned, made just for them.

So far we’ve only seen pictures of the colorful assortment rear cases for the Moto X. A key part of the rumors concerning these options would be that the user would be able to choose not just that back color, but a trim color that can either complement or contrast. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the same kind of leaked imagery detailing that aspect of the phone, but I’m seriously hoping that it’s true.

After all, by simply introducing a combination of factors making up the phone’s custom look, that’s going to exponentially increase the sort of individuality you get from the final results. The true scope will ultimately depend on the number of colors available, but the more the better.

Turning Users Into Fans

If Motorola can drive into users’ minds “this phone was made for you,” this customization business could be the single most important decision made in regards to the phone’s design. But I’d still like to caution: that’s just the start. Even if this relationship starts out strongly, the company is going to have to continue cultivating it in order to get those new Moto X fans to stick with Motorola in the years to come.

Based on past performance, I’ve got some serious concerns about its ability to do that (*cough*Android updates*cough), but at the same time this Moto X effort feels like enough of a step in the right direction that I’m willing to concede that maybe Motorola really has learned a thing or two.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!