Moto Mods: a smartphone failure in three acts

To go along with the Moto Z series, Motorola launched Moto Mods in 2016. The idea is that the smartphone can be expanded with whatever modules you choose. The manufacturer promised that at least three generations of the Z series would support these modules from the very beginning. The Z3 Play marks the third generation and it has just recently been released. So where is the journey headed?

A good idea with endless possibilities

After LG, Motorola was the second manufacturer to take the idea of mods really seriously (excluding Google’s Project Ara). Motorola’s implementation of mods was also much more interesting than the competition’s. Instead of inserting the modules into the bottom of the phone, which significantly limits its versatility, they are simply placed on the back of the smartphone. There are few limits to the possibilities.

Need more battery power? That’s no problem, since thanks to the Power Pack you’ll have 2220 mAh of extra battery on board. The sound of your smartphone isn’t enough for you? Thank to the JBL audio mod, the Motorola smartphone will sound much better. Even a real optical zoom can become reality with the help of the Hasselblad True Zoom, although the results are somewhat disappointing. The pictures you take can now also be printed out directly from your smartphone. After two years there are a few mods, but that’s not really enough.

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The Gamepad Mod makes gaming on your smartphone more fun. / © AndroidPIT

Price has always been a problem

The purchase costs are so high that the idea of getting a smartphone along with the mods quickly becomes interesting. Here’s an example: the most interesting smartphone of the Z series, the Moto Z2 Force, cost $720 without any mods. That’s a hefty price in itself. But if you add one or two mods, that’s well over $1,000. Even despite all the mods, these are prices that maybe Samsung and Apple can handle, but a manufacturer like Motorola can’t. The brand just doesn’t have enough fans.

As many people noticed quite early on, the mods were never really worth their price. The audio modem costs just under 100 dollars, but you can get much better Bluetooth speakers, and usually for much less money. Or there’s the Insta-Share Projector: with a small projector module you can project videos directly from your smartphone onto a wall. That’s a great idea, but unfortunately it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality, and it still costs around 200 dollars. You can get significantly better projectors at similar prices, even if they’re not so easy to transport. But they’ll work with any other phone.

There hasn’t been much enthusiasm so far

Motorola has been intensely promoting Moto Mods for the past two years. Understandably, they have invested a lot of time and money. In 2016 everything looked like it could develop into a real success. And the manufacturer actually did everything it could to make that happen. There were even competitions where resourceful participants could submit their own ideas for new mods. Some of these ideas later found their way onto the market, but you never had the feeling that all the effort really led to more customers. I’ve only really came across them very rarely outside of AndroidPit, and I think my colleagues feel the same way.

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The Moto Z3 Play is bringing in the third Z generation. / © AndroidPIT

Good and sensible ideas are always being copied. So far, LG and Motorola are still the only manufacturers to have implemented these kinds of modules. Essential’s attempt fell apart right after it got started. Even relevant small manufacturers that copy practically everything that has had any kind of success, have kept their hands off of modules. Yes, the modes aren’t that easy to produce, at least in comparison to coming out with a red version of the device.

The third generation is here, what now Motorola?

With the Moto Z3 Play, the third generation of the Z Series is now on the market, which leads to the question as to how Motorola will proceed. Will they hold on to the Moto Mods? Or are they going to trash the idea?

In my opinion the disadvantages of the Moto Mods outweigh the disadvantages. The fact that they are compatible with all the different models of the Z series is, of course, laudable and also absolutely necessary. At the same time, however, this also means that the Z series can only develop extremely tentatively in terms of design. The shape, the camera module and other aspects on the back can’t be changed, since otherwise the modules wouldn’t fit anymore. At least the screen on the front panel can be changed, and that’s exactly what Motorola did. But will that be enough for the next few years? I’m of the opinion that it won’t. The competition doesn’t sleep in the meantime, and is constantly developing. Of course, smartphone design is becoming more and more uniform, but keeping to the existing elements in the coming years certainly won’t inspire any new customers.

And one thing is certain: the Moto Mods and their smartphones weren’t particularly successful. The smartphones were undoubtedly good, but they’ve been unable to win over fans. As we all know, the design of a smartphone plays a big role for most customers, since most smartphones have enough power. And as I said, if Motorola sticks to Moto Mods, the design can’t fundamentally change. So what are the chances that the new smartphones will be more successful than the previous ones? The manufacturer primarily earns money with the G series, which isn’t compatible with the mods.

So how do you feel about the Moto Mods? Should Motorola continue to pursue the idea and stick to it? Or have they always been quite uninteresting?

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