Why the Moto Z is not the modular smartphone I’ve been waiting for


Ever since I owned the Nokia 3650, I’ve been enamored with the idea of a modular smartphone. To be clear, the Nokia 3650 wasn’t a smartphone and its modularity was limited to swapping out the front and back covers, but in the past 13 years, the modular phone hasn’t really changed much – not even with the introduction of the Motorola Moto Z. For those who don’t know, Motorola’s 2016 flagship device were introduced as modular smartphones with add-on components or Moto Mods which augment the phone’s basic functionality. The Mods snap on to the back of the phone, connecting with proprietary pins and held in place by magnets. If this sounds familiar, it’s basically the same concept that Google introduced with Project Ara a while back, but Motorola found a way to screw it up.

Rather than compartmentalizing the main components of the phone (camera, battery, storage, processor or speakers), the Moto Z was built to be as slim as possible so that the Moto Mods count simply be slapped onto the back of the phone. That’s fine if all you need is an extra battery, but who in their right mind would want to walk around town with a JBL speaker strapped to the back of the Moto Z which would transform the device from an ultra-slim 5.2mm thin to a 17.2mm-thick monstrosity.

Moto Mod JBL SoundBoost Speaker JAD_0376


I like the fact that Motorola has already shown off more modules for the Moto Z than LG has for the G5. It’s clear that the company is focusing on creating a robust ecosystem of Moto Mods, but there’s a really good chance that it’ll all come crashing down within the next 12-18 months. In order for there to be a healthy modular phone ecosystem, the module must be reusable beyond the lifespan of the phone itself. What’s the point of buying a $600 phone spending another $200 on a camera module if that module is completely useless when I upgrade my phone in 12 months? I’d be better off buying a point and shoot camera and carrying two devices with me at all times. Also, the phone that those modules connect to must be one of the best-selling devices of the year. Very few accessory makers will be willing to commit to building $100 modules which can only be used on one phone unless that device is used by 5 to 10 million people. 

Based on where things currently sit, the modular phone I’m waiting for is still a good 2-3 years off. Motorola and LG are testing the waters to see if consumers are willing to pay a premium for snap-on accessories which enhance the base functionality of their phones. Some people will buy into the concept, but I can guarantee you that Motorola will have a very hard time selling more than 100,000 Insta-Share Projector modules in the first 12 months that the Moto Z is on the market.

Nick Gray
I'm a life-long tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC. After writing about tech for more than a decade, I jumped at the opportunity to take on the role of Editor in Chief at Phandroid. Please contact me at [email protected].

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