I remember when I was growing up and computers were first becoming mainstream household items in the 90s. Every single desktop or laptop was some shade of gray or black. They were rather aesthetically boring, clear tools without a focus on design. This is what made the Apple iMac G3 such a fascinating product. It just looked different than the rest of the computers that it was competing against. It would appear that smartphones are taking a similar turn these days at least at the flagship level. Most high-end phones these days are very large rectangular slabs of glass and aluminum is muted colors.
It is this stale monolith design trend that has made the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE such an interesting device to me. Outside of the value proposition and feature set that makes this phone interesting, I find it fascinating at the variety of color options that this phone comes in. Six different colors at launch, readily available. The choice for customers is a great thing. What this has made me think about is Motorola. More specifically, the Motorola Moto X and the companies Moto X customization system. A custom building phone experience that was so unique and something that I wish the company never would have abandoned.
What Was Moto Maker?
To explain it plainly, Moto Maker took the concept of customizing a car with options to the smartphone world. Virtually everything was available to change for customers: backplate color, storage configuration, custom engravings, the color of buttons, and so on. In a world where manufacturers made the executive decision on these combinations, Motorola came with a different approach. Let the customer pick how they wanted their new phone to look to match their personality.
The options seemed endless, and in the following two generations of Moto X new materials were added. Finishes such as bamboo and leather were added to create some added flair to owning a Moto X. I owned a bamboo backed Moto X and it was a joy to hold and was just so much different than the metal-clad phones of the era. Into the third generation of the phone, however, the options became less expansive but still offered a decent amount of choice over the standard smartphone fare.
As design trends changed though, Motorola tried to change with them. Metal and plastic-backed phones made way for gradient glass affairs. To keep with the times, Motorola pivoted to modularity with the Z line, rendering the customization of the Moto Maker service relatively unappealing. The customizable backs had lost their novelty and any material used other than aluminum and glass was considered inferior. And so with that, the era of the extremely customized phone met its early demise.
The Return of Options
In recent years during the popularization of glass-backed phones, the selection that used to be available for phone color options had gone away, and a return to the monolithic palette of greyscale had returned. And even when colors are introduced they are almost always subdued. An example of this is the most recent iPhone launches. The iPhone 11 Pro series featured a new green color, but this was midnight green which was closer to space gray than most shades of green. This year, Google Pixel 5 came in black and a Sage Green color which was also very subdued.
This is why when I saw the emphasis on the color palette that Samsung was offering with the Galaxy S20 FE I found it incredibly refreshing. Finally, some options were available offering consumers a level of personalized choice that is universally available right at launch. Typically there will be carrier exclusive colors (such as when Verizon was the only company to get the LG Velvet in red) or even retail partner exclusive colors (such as the various Samsung Galaxy phones that had exclusive color options through Best Buy). But with the S20 FE, all six color options are available immediately from every retailer that sells them.
In my eyes, this is the legacy of Moto Maker shining through and evidence of what Motorola was doing back then that still resonates today. While many pundits and marketing people will downplay the importance of color options as a selling point of a phone the reality is that colors speak to human individuality on a very subconscious level. I will always prioritize a phone that comes in red for example, that color just speaks to me in ways that I cannot fully articulate. And by Samsung giving people this option of choice, much like Motorola before them, it is clear that individuality in smartphones might be making a comeback. This is the legacy of Moto Maker and we can only hope that it will continue to live on.
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