The gadget world is stale and boring now. Phones look the same. Action cameras copy GoPro, headphone companies copy Beats. Most electronic companies are overly cautious about going to far. Vaporware can kill momentum.
Yet today Motorola threw its arms in the Spanish air and said fuck it. During its Mobile World Congress press event, the company basically said here are some products we might make or we might not. The rest of the electronic world would be wise to follow and embrace the concept.
Last year Motorola announced the Moto Z smartphone. From the front it’s another black slate. But the backside features a mounting point for accessories. So far there have been a handful of accessories — Motorola calls them Moto Mods — that are compatible with the Moto Z. There’s a projector and a speaker and a camera and that’s about it.
Motorola announced several new Mods that are coming out in the coming months, but they also showed off Mods that might not be built. Concepts. There was a Moto Mod VR headset, a photo printer, an interactive LED panel and even a Lego-like mod for integrating a phone into creations. These mods show that Motorola envisions a world outside of the traditional box and I love it.
The idea of a concept is foreign to the electronic world. Major gadget makers just do not show off products that they do not intend to release. Yet car companies have long used concepts to lay claim to design elements and create excitement around their brand.
Think about auto shows. The most exciting items are not the new trucks or sports cars. It’s the concepts. Consumers understand that these vehicles will not be made or available for purchase. These things are only for show.
Vehicle happy wheels demo manufactures uses these concepts to illustrate their roadmaps. They’re used to convey where the company is going while the production vehicles show where the company is. And it’s that notion gadget companies would be wise to adopt.
Motorola has been through hell the last few years. In 2011 the company split in two. Google eventually bought the handset division in 2012 and later dumped it off on Lenovo in 2014. The company needed a win and it kind of found one in the Moto G, its mid-range phone line. It never became the best selling phone but it sold well enough to help Motorola gain marketshare in many markets.
The company’s Moto Z is its competitor against the Galaxy S and LG G series phones. It’s not better per se, but it’s different. And different is good. Motorola is clearly committed to the Z’s modular ecosystem and the reveal of the concepts shows where things could go.
Think if you’re an engineer at Motorola or Samsung or even a Kickstarter-bound startup. You’ve no doubt created a fantastic widget or gizmo bound for market. It’s buttoned-up, proper and bound to be loved by a wide swath of consumers. But along the way, there was likely a design derivative of the product that deserved more attention. Perhaps this version of the gizmo wouldn’t be a best seller but with a little work, you, as a rockstar engineer or designer, could have turned it into a fantastic product and wished you could have shown it off just for funsies. But alas, you’re bound by an NDA that required you to burn all prototypes and early designs. Concepts can be outlets for engineers and designers.
Every electronic firm I’m familiar with internally circulates concepts and early prototypes. These get sent up to the c-suite and back down to engineering during a product’s development stage. These are not meant for general consumption and that’s fine. But look at Motorola and car companies, there’s value in showing off products that will not be released. I for one would love a coffee table book not of products Apple released, but of products Apple didn’t release.