By Erik Christiansen
As a long-time computer enthusiast, I have a confession to make. I'm more excited about mobile (phones, tablets, and wearables) than I've ever been about notebooks and desktops. In 2004, if I wanted to do anything major (a paper, edit video or pictures, or spend a good deal of time reading on the web) it was preferable to do so at my beast of a workstation. Laptops were heavy, battery life was abysmal, and the low resolution screens scraped my eyeballs. Also, today's coffee shops are much better equipped for people's ultralight devices - having installed considerably more power outlets. I'm sure this has greatly reduced the number of coffee house brawls between gadgeteers.
Today, I still really like having a proper workstation, but only when if I'm doing heavy multitasking that requires a 27" display or if I need the extra horsepower. Instead, I spend more time on a laptop, but even more time on a tablet or phone. In fact, about 50% of all my Internet usage takes place on my phone and tablet. That's pretty incredible, considering that I haven't been using mobile devices that long. I even wrote the entire draft of this post using the Swype Keyboard on a Nexus 7!
My bursting excitement aside, there is still one glaring difference between traditional PCs and mobile devices. The latter are not customizable. When I need a new Macbook, I will be able to choose the exact size, form factor, CPU speed, amount of memory, and hard drive space. If I want a new tablet, once I narrow down the model, I'm lucky if I can choose the storage option.
Motorola recently took out a full sized ad in the paper edition of the Wall Street Journal, touting their upcoming Moto X Phone, which will be built in the USA and will be "...the first smartphone you can design yourself." Now, the level of customizability is debatable. Some rumours have surfaced that consumers will only be allowed to choose the color of the backplate and include a custom engraving. This would be a huge disappointment considering that Apple has had engraving options for many years. That is not customization.
I'll tell you what I want. I want to be able decide how much RAM goes into the phone (1, 2, or 3 GB), the CPU clock speed and model (1.5 to 2GHz), camera type (8 or 13 megapixel), storage space (16, 32, 64, or 128 GB), in addition to colors and engravings.
I have posed this idea to many friends and colleagues and there response is often, "you're just reinventing the PC." No I'm not. I don't expect these devices to be upgradable once they're shipped (except for perhaps a Micro SD card slot) .
There is a good argument for this business model. Why not make one phone design that's flexible and robust enough to satisfy mid range and high end users?
So far Google has done almost nothing with Motorola since they purchased the company two years ago. It's time to disrupt the market by giving customers a product that incorporates the Android motto: choice. Give users a choice of internal hardware, include a pure vanilla Android experience, and provide timely Apple/Nexus-like updates. That's a phone I would buy on release day.
[for a great discussion on the Moto X, check out This Week in Tech: Episode 413]