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Jony Ive is wrong to criticize Moto Maker

by Brandon Russell | February 28, 2015February 28, 2015 11:00 am PDT

Moto X - Hero - Moto Maker - 002

People love choice.

Why eat plain oatmeal when you can enhance the flavor with other ingredients? Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes. Entire industries are built around this approach: fashion, automotive, food. Without choice, we’d be living in a tale of Stepford Wives.

Apparently choice doesn’t apply to the electronics industry, as Jony Ive argued in a puff piece about the famous Apple designer from last week. When the topic of customization was brought up, Ive said, in no uncertain terms, that it’s a bunch of bologna.

“I believe that’s abdicating your responsibility as a designer,” he told The New Yorker’s Ian Parker.

While Apple’s British knight didn’t specifically name drop Motorola, there’s little doubt he had umbrage with the company’s terrific Moto Maker service, saying the broad customization options abdicate a designer’s responsibility. Handing over choice (color, materials, etc.) was somehow a failure on Motorola’s part—a cop-out, basically.

But that’s exactly why Moto Maker is so great. Rather than giving consumers just one or two color options, Moto Maker provides thousands of possible combinations. It gives buyer’s power—however false that sense of power may be—and the chance to make their phone that much more personal; it adds individuality to the process, a feeling of uniqueness.

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When I purchased the first Moto X, I had a brilliant time coming up with different combinations. And when I finally settled on army green model, accented with silver and black, it gave me a feeling of satisfaction; I somehow cared more. This was, to my knowledge, a one of a kind, the only Moto X with that combination of colors and material. I was thrilled—and the end product turned out exactly how I wanted.

You don’t always get that feeling of satisfaction from Apple products. I love Apple gear, and this isn’t an argument of quality; in that sense, Apple is among the best. I use an iPhone 6 and MacBook Air on a daily basis, the latter of which is hooked up to a beautiful Thunderbolt display. But they’re all so bland. Like plain oatmeal. There are no other ingredients. The satisfaction you get from choice—and customization—isn’t there.

Apple products are premium, elegant, and, above all, consistent. That’s not in question. You know an Apple product when you see one, and it’s a major part of the company’s identity as one of the world’s top brands. But Ive is wrong to criticize Motorola’s approach, which in my eyes more companies should adopt. The Apple designer is underestimating the power of choice, and completely ignoring individuality.

“Our belief is that the end user should be directly involved in the process of designing products,” said Motorola president Rick Osterloh.

Motorola has offered some of the more consistent and appealing designs in mobile over the past few years, and Moto Maker is the pinnacle of the company’s vision. You won’t find leather and wood-backed phones anywhere else, and I don’t see that as something Motorola designers should be disappointed with. It’s a more endearing strategy, something that, as a customer, makes me like the brand even more.

Another example of successful customization is Nike’s NIKEiD for footwear. Nike designs are terrific in their own right, but you know what’s even better than the color combinations Nike designers have picked out? Choosing your own color combinations that you, as an individual, prefer. Moto Maker is the exact same idea, and makes the purchase of a very expensive Thing, well, fun.

iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 5s-7

I’d love to be able to customize Apple gear, or, at the very least, have more options. Take the iPhone for instance: the gold color is awesome, but I’m not crazy about the white front. Give me gold and black, and I’m a happy camper. Better yet, add a gold ring around the home button, and I’m a really happy camper. That’s not going to happen. Apple will never let its fan base dictate how its devices look, even if it is something as simple as mixing and matching a few colors. Ive would never abdicate his responsibilities to Apple products, no matter how bad I want a black MacBook Air.

There are some things that don’t need customizing, including many electronics. You don’t need a custom, diamond-encrusted smartwatch, for example. But phones are very personal possessions—your entire life revolves around it—and Moto Maker further encourages individuality.

The good news is that the Apple Watch will offer plenty of different options, just as Apple’s iPod lineup did before it. There are three different versions—Apple Watch, Watch Sport, and Watch Edition—along with several different band options, giving consumers 18 different models in the entire collection. That’s a start. Now give me the opportunity to customize.

I get it. Apple has crafted a very careful, very meticulous identity, one that has put the company on pace to become the first trillion dollar company. But it’s ridiculous of Ive to condemn Moto Maker. The service is a fun, unique part of an industry that’s filling up with phones that are becoming more and more indistinguishable than the next.

It’s brilliant that Motorola has made a commitment to Moto Maker—something the company is doubling down on with its Moto 360. Not only will users be able to custom build their own Moto X, but soon people will have the power to build their own smartwatch, too. Motorola’s wearable is already a handsome device (same goes for the Moto X), and adding it to Moto Maker, in my eyes, makes it even more desirable.

Customization clearly isn’t for everyone. But it’s a brave philosophy that Motorola’s Osterloh said the company will continue to follow. That’s something we should support, not denounce.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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