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August 15, 2013

Does Moto X Phone Suggest Americans Are Vapid?

The new Motorola Moto X Phone isn’t very competitive from a technology standpoint - but from a fashion standpoint, it is well ahead of any other phone.   It is also built in America and sold only to Americans.   Apparently there are no plans to export the phone.     I think the implication is that Americans don’t care that much about content, we care only about appearances and given our political situation the assessment may be accurate.    The thing is I don’t think this is an American only problem and I expect Motorola and Google will eventually move this phone and its manufacturing out of the U.S.  

We’ve been arguing for years that consumers don’t care what’s inside a phone, let’s explore that this week. 

What’s Inside Doesn’t Count

I’ve been wondering when manufacturers would figure out that Apple largely sells on a connection to status, not on their technology - which is more of a proof point.    People buy gadgets based on how these gadgets make them feel and, with the exception of a few geeks, don’t really care what’s inside them unless the devices break or someone points out their toy is inferior.   The Moto X id designed for just this market - as it trades off cutting edge display size, processor performance, and radio for changing skins including two made of wood.   The phone will simply look very different than everyone else and showcase individuality.   This isn’t to say the performance of the phone will suck - it’s just that others in the price range will be faster or better in one or more ways. The differences shouldn’t be noticeable - unless you are running benchmarks or comparing page load times with your buddies.  

Unlike cars where people do, from time to time, race at a stop light but don’t actively compare the phone they have with other phones.    But they do compare appearance and with everyone and their brother either carrying the latest iPhone or Samsung, it is pretty hard to stand out.

This is what the Moto X is trying to address and it does so brilliantly. It also kind of says something about us that we would rather have a unique shell then the leading technology - but is that something new?

One Size Fits All World

This was always the problem with Apple’s strategy of having a very limited line. We don’t live in a one size fits all world and when HP licensed the iPod over a decade ago, it was largely with the belief that HP could build different colors.   Apple said no but then, after HP exited, they bought out different sizes and colors in the Nano and Mini iPods regularly.   What seemed strange then and now was that they never seemed to do this with their premium devices.  

Those tended to comes in narrow choices (black/white) and capacity.   I assume to keep costs down and you could put a case on them but then why spend extra for a beautiful metal case and then cover it up with plastic? This seemed nuts and I still think margins trumped good sense because Apple should have done what Motorola has done first given their experiences with the iPod. Instead, they just seemed to forget that people like choice and because Apple didn’t provide it - they are dropping farther and farther back from the lead in Smartphones.  

Wrapping Up: Will it Work?

The Moto X has a lot of buzz now but some of it is drifting negativity around the U.S. - only nature of the device and reviewers. At least some of them seem to care the technology isn’t more advanced.   Still it will depend who buys and uses the device and how much attention they’ll get.   Had Apple done this I’d have no doubt they’d be successful with it. Then again, Motorola and Google have had marking issues on and off, and Motorola has been cut to the bone - so execution could be an issue. 

We’ll have to wait and see. The fact remains however, that people often care how something looks more than what is inside and Motorola is betting a lot that this behavior will make their Moto X a hit.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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