A Big Bet On Choice: Motorola Will Soon Let You Build Your Own Smartwatch

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


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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.

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