Update: ABC News reports that customization options will be purely cosmetic, letting customers choose the colors, custom engraving, and personalized wallpaper.
Motorola sparked more questions than answers on Tuesday when it hyped the upcoming Moto X as "the first smartphone you can design yourself" in a full-page newspaper ad previewed by Ad Age. There were already questions about whether the Moto X would be a top-tier smartphone capable of challenging the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S4, or a more modest, mid-range handset. But now with Motorola's ad hitting The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today on Wednesday, it sounds like anything's possible.
We already know that the Moto X will use its sensors to adapt the handset's interface for different situations, like taking the phone out of your pocket or traveling in a car. There have also been a few rumors about fancy high-tech features like always-on voice activation, and predictive capabilities that can anticipate when you want to take a picture or check the time.
But a phone you "can design yourself"? It's a marketing tease that could either pay off in positive mindshare dividends, or leave Motorola looking like it over-promised. It all depends on the hardware that eventually hits market.
All about the hardware
The phone will reportedly have a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, 2GB RAM, and a 720p display. Speculation about other specs is more varied with some rumors saying the phone will have a 4.6-inch display and others hyping a 5-inch screen. There's also some disagreement on whether the phone will have a 10- or 16-megapixel rear-facing camera.
Perhaps these points of disagreement are a hint to what kind of options we can expect with the customizable Moto X. Is Motorola, as the ad suggests, seriously pondering a Dell-like ordering experience that lets you handpick the phone's key components?
"My feeling is that this is more a marketing move than a new business model similar to Dell," says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president for consumer devices with analyst firm Gartner. "It could be as easy as picking your cover material or even designing your cover." Many phones also offer you a choice of onboard storage, but Milanesi says anything like choosing different processors or screen sizes gets way too complicated. "You might as well come up with different models and put them on the market," she said.
For the most part, that's what phone makers are doing. Apple currently offers three different storage sizes with the iPhone 5. Samsung offers two sizes of onboard memory for the Galaxy S4, depending on the carrier. Beyond that, the Korea-based phone maker creates various models of its Galaxy line with different selling features such as the water-resistant Galaxy S4 Active and the smaller S4 Mini. There are also reports of an LTE Advanced model coming to Asian markets in the coming weeks.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.