According to an article on Wired.com, in March, Motorola will flip on a new version of Moto Maker, the tool it created to let users design a Moto X to their exact specifications. This time, though, it won’t just be for smartphones: Motorola will soon allowing you to customize your own Moto 360 smartwatch.
You’ll be able to choose from three watch casings: silver, black, and champagne gold. Then you’ll choose a band, which comes in two sizes, in either leather or metal. (Motorola’s careful to not designate the sizes “male” and “female,” but that’s obviously the idea.) Lastly, you can select one of 11 watch faces, picking the one that will appear the first time you turn your watch on. There are a couple of new watch faces, and Motorola finally offers the gorgeous single-link band it teased in its first promo video nearly a year ago.
Motorola’s been working towards this moment. When I ask if Moto Maker has always been the plan for the 360, everyone on our video call laughs. Of course it’s always been the plan, they tell me, it’s just taken a while to get here. In an effort to be present at—or at least near—the birth of Android Wear, Motorola had to tear a few pages off its launch plans. “There’s a couple of things here we’ve been dying to finally get out, for people to buy and wear,” says Dickon Isaacs, Motorola’s director of design for wearables.
What the announcement means, right now, is that you can simply combine parts however you want. It’s not going to convince the naysayers to suddenly buy a smartwatch, but if you’ve held off on a purchase because it just didn’t quite look the way you wanted it to, there’s certainly a lot more to try now. During a demo with Motorola execs, I picked out a natural silver case, a dark metal 23mm band, and a gold watch face. It’s classy but edgy; it says yeah, I sell insurance and drive a Camry, but I could kill you and get away with it.
What the expanded Moto Maker might mean later is much larger. It might allow Motorola to offer upgrades to its products more quickly, with more customizations. It might allow it to build an Apple Store-like experience online, where you can play with your device before you buy it. It might allow it to flip the upgrade cycle, so that you upgrade each part only as you need to. Most of all, it might show the rest of the tech industry that this is how you sell technology when technology is made to be beautiful. You give people choice, you let them test and try and experiment, and you let them build something they love because it’s uniquely theirs.
The Moto Maker interface is obvious as ever, a rendering of your chosen timepiece changing in real time to mirror your selections. It’s not like with the X, where you pick from dozens of colors, accents, and storage options. Buying a watch is much simpler. There are high-res, detailed images of every part of the watch, designed to be good enough to make you feel like you’ve touched the device. You can see the textures on the band, the shadows on the face.
“Our research across all categories show that details matter, construction matters, materials matter,” Isaacs says. “When people first see an object, it’s a visceral reaction, right?” Once you’ve selected your case, band, and face, the Moto Maker facility in Shenzhen, China makes your device and ships it to you. Don’t like the one you picked? Ship it back, on the company’s dime, and try again.
I’ve always loved playing with different combinations for the Moto X—I’ve spent hours designing dream phones, even though I’ve never bought one. That fun of shopping is a key part of what Motorola is tapping into.
This is only the beginning, too. Moto Maker is a much larger project at Motorola, one Isaacs says is core to the ethos of the entire company. “We clearly believe in the power of choice, as a brand. And this is really empowering. To be able to design your own watch—it’s not an analog watch, it’s a highly sophisticated device of the future. To be able to do that at this level, we just think it’s going to be incredibly liberating.”
Isaacs’ stance is surprisingly controversial in the watch world. Apple’s design chief Jony Ive made waves last week by attacking an “unnamed” watch company, and though he didn’t say the word “Motorola,” he all but blinked it in Morse code. He flippantly told The New Yorker that “their value proposition was ‘Make it whatever you want. You can choose whatever color you want.’ And I believe that’s abdicating your responsibility as a designer.”
When I mention the quote, Isaacs pauses for a moment before responding. Then he leans close to the microphone. “I just think… we’re not dogmatic about our design approach. We want to empower people, and ultimately people are going to be more emotionally connected to their device if they’re part of the design process.”
John Renaldi, who runs web products and e-commerce at Motorola, likens it to the Ikea Effect, the idea that we place far more value on things we create ourselves, even when our part in the process consists of pushing a piece of wood into a pre-made hole in another piece of wood.
“You don’t actually build a table from Ikea, right?” he says. “But when you have a part in that process, actually assembling it yourself… then you’re out telling people ‘look how great this freaking table is.’” I know the feeling: I’ve put together an apartment’s worth of Ikea furniture, pushing this thing into that other thing, and I’m very proud of myself.
Offering choices is just good business—Motorola loves creating evangelists, and a few times the execs lovingly mentioned buyers who get their device and immediately Instagram their customized model. Isaacs also happens to be right when he says it’s crucial for the Moto 360 to reflect its owners’ taste and style as much as their ability to quickly get directions to Starbucks. Motorola wants to guide that style, though. It’s intentionally not offering hundreds of wildly varying options to users. There’s no plastic model, no Hello Kitty strap; the idea seems to be that you can design anything you want so long as it’s pretty. “So of course they can go anywhere,” Isaacs says, “but at a high level, when people go into the site for the first time, they’re going to see beautiful examples.”
Over and over, Isaacs and Renaldi tell me this is just the beginning for Moto 360 and Moto Maker. They won’t be specific about what’s next, but they lay clues. Isaacs says he’s always viewed the watch “as a true collection and portfolio of products,” instead of the few options initially available. Moto Maker might soon be a natural place for Motorola to offer new bands and colors for each season and trend, or to offer unique, curated collaborations with designers and brands. Picture it now: Motorola Moto 360 by Marc by Marc Jacobs.
One challenge with the X was the simple mechanics of purchasing. Moto Maker is a website, and most people buy phones in a physical store, with a sales associate who can answer questions about upgrade dates and early termination fees. The Moto 360 doesn’t have this problem, but Motorola seems to also be exploring ways to bring Moto Maker to places other than your computer.
On the software side, there might someday be more to customize than just the watch face. Lally Narwal, the company’s director of product marketing, won’t reveal much, but he says coyly that “the funny thing is, when you go over to the Google campus… they’re all wearing 360s.” Motorola didn’t provide them, he swears. “So they understand that we need to work together. Motorola being the lead OEM when it comes to Android Wear, they’re certainly making a collaborative effort to improve the experience.” It’s not hard to imagine being able to pre-install apps, set up shortcuts, and completely personalize your watch before it ever leaves the factory.
There are a lot of maybes. Hidden behind the glass window in the conference room are the 360 team’s desks, which they promise are filled with other things left to show. But one thing, Motorola has made abundantly clear: to them, design isn’t about telling me what I want. It’s about providing all of the best things it can find, and then letting me mix and match them how I will. That sounds like something even Jony Ive could get behind.
Article Credit: David Pierce