“Moto Mods are hot-swappable – it doesn’t require you to power off the phone when you switch the modules around.”
For those who did manage to ship a working phone, modular design was still a struggle. LG was the first commercial household name to succeed in building a modular-type phone, but both technology and creativity limited them – the LG G5 from 2016 did come with two optional modules, yet its very core design required the phone’s battery to be removed with the attachment. The accessories (a DAC and a camera grip with battery capacity) weren’t crucial to the phone’s operation, and it was bewildering for users to power off a phone, just to have a better camera grip for a smartphone.
The Fairphone 2 that launched in 2015 (by Fairphone) had a more sensible strategy; they kept costs low, and parts readily compatible by relying on using less recent innovations. However, the challenge was that the Fairphone 2 could never see cutting-edge hardware – it’s still speculative on whether Fairphone will come up with a module that gives the phone USB Type-C connectivity.
That brings us to the Moto Z. With its signature 16-pin connectors and slightly-modified Android OS, the Moto Mod attachments are one of the fastest, most real applications of modular technology for a smartphone thus far. Lenovo (the company that owns Moto) managed to overcome some of the niggling issues that the LG G5 had. First, the Moto Mods are hot-swappable – it doesn’t require you to power off the phone when you switch the modules around.
The LG G5 not only required you to turn the phone to Off – their modules were attached to the removable battery, so you’ll find yourself needing to “break” the module off the phone.
Moto Mods did not have that issue with their phones – if you want to switch from the Hasselblad True Zoom camera module to the JBL SoundBoost external speakers, simply slide the former off, and attach the other magnetically. Same goes for their many battery-type Moto Mods, where it’s just as fast as charging a phone with a power bank, without all the messy cables and bulky power bank itself.
The use of hot-swappable parts and simple attachments by Moto gave a clear direction forward in the Moto Mods and the Moto Z range, and this was in the same year when the LG G5’s modular idea floated and sunk.
The general criticism it had was the combined price of the entire modular ecosystem. It was also nowhere as ambitious as the bare-bones approach Project Ara and Phonebloks had, and the Moto Mods had asking prices akin to budget handsets of today.
Despite the barriers put in place, Lenovo was quick to bring the Moto Z2 Play to life this year. You’ll not only see some upgrades to hardware; the new Moto Mods are built upon the success of the existing ones. The phone also comes with a slimmer profile, which addresses the bulkiness that comes with modularity. What Moto did here was something the others didn’t succeed at. Not only did Moto (and Fairphone) have the commercial modular story going on for more than a year, they are making it look very possible. Only time will tell if the current strategies to their modules and main phone body will last.