“We have a complete roadmap of mods”

22-12-2016 My Mobile

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“We have a complete roadmap of mods”

It has been a busy time of late for Motorola. The brand, whose phone business is now under Lenovo, recently launched its modular phones, the Moto Z and the Moto Z Play in India. And is planning a few more launches too. My Mobile Team met James Thiede, head of global product marketing, Mobile Business Group, Lenovo, to find out more. 

The most obvious question is that the whole modular idea has been tried before. There was this company known as Modu which implemented this in 2010-11. What makes you guys to use the mods?

 I am not familiar with other companies but I think for us the reason we are doing this is if you think about innovation in the industry , it has kind of stagnated in the last decade. Basically what you are looking at is display has increased with a fraction of an inch, megapixels are added or taken away. So from that perspective we think there is not a lot of innovation and consumers have to wait for a while to get their next phone. So what we have done here is created an easy and convenient way to modify their phone experience whenever they want. Whether it is taking one of a lifetime picture, sharing music or videos. The way we have done it is the phones and the Moto Mods are designed so that they fit together seamlessly. There is no removing batteries or power cycling the phone, you just run them together and they work. So we think from that perspective, our approach is unique and different. We focus now on a few specific areas and we have overcome a lot of pain points that people have with their mobiles whether it is imaging or listening to music.

You mean to say that the mods were built around the same time when the phones were built?

They were designed together. For example if we look at Moto Z and we take a JBL sound speaker mod, you can see the camera module is slightly raised and it actually allows us to have a settling point when you attach the mod. There are four powerful magnets in the corner of each mod and they are shrouded with steel to direct the poles in a specific way. It allows for a firm adhesion but not so firm that you can’t remove the two. So when you put them together, what you see is a little acknowledgment visually and you also hear a tone which signifies that the two are paired together. There is no pairing, finding or searching like you do with Bluetooth. So for the average consumer we have made it extremely simple.

We have heard a lot about the Hasselblad mod and JBL Mod already. Are there going to come more along the way?

We have a complete roadmap of mods and we are working on it. These are the ones we have announced and you will see them in India. If you stay tuned in the very near future, you are going to see a couple of new mods. The idea is whenever we are going to have a major phone launch then you might see a couple of new mods as well. You will also see some of them in between, released at different points of time.

How frequently you are going to launch the Moto Z phones?

I cannot comment on the future roadmaps right now.

How are you going to market these mods in India because it will be seen as a very geeky thing? The Indian market is supposed to be very value for money and spec conscious. How do you plan to convince Indian consumers to invest in these mods?

I think the nice thing about the Indian market is that it is the most technically sophisticated market. I had the opportunity to interact with the Indian press a number of times and I think one of things I enjoyed with them as well as the consumers in India is that they really appreciate good technology. So when you look at these two devices, both the devices are good. You have got one that is a flagship device in every shape and form and the other that has some flagship features but is more approachable when it comes to price. So first and foremost I think the Indian consumers will value the phone themselves and I think depending on someone’s preferences, their needs and what their passions are, they will be interested in different mods. For example we talked about JBL and a little bit about the battery. So we are offering consumers a choice. Another one that we haven’t talked about yet is our style mods. They allow a consumer to adjust or modify their particular style and design based on their preferences. It attaches the same way other mods do and the phone is designed to incorporate the style mod or the style show. You have different looks, you can go with a stainless steel case or you can have a matte case and then we have three different kinds of woods cases, two ballistic nylons and leather cases that we are bringing to India. We are also going to include one of the wood mods in the box with all the Moto Z devices.

Speaking about yourself, which is your favourite mods?

My two favourite mods are the JBL one and as also I am into photography I like the Hasselblad mod. Talking about Hasselblad mod, we have partnered with them and designed a Moto Mod that overcomes a lot of shortcomings of mobile imaging. So when think of mobile imaging the biggest shortcoming is cannot get up close to take a good picture. So if you are at a concert, mostly I am at the middle or at the back because I am too cheap to spend the money on the front-row seats (laughs). My choice is that I either can digitally zoom in and share a lower quality picture, which then people see and say ‘that doesn’t look that good’ or I can bring my DSLR with my 80mm to 200mm lens which sometimes they let in, or sometimes they don’t. I take an awesome photo but it’s like at the end of the night, I bring it home, take the memory card, or sometimes I just go ‘like ok forget it.’ So we worked with Hasselblad and the True Zoom Moto Mod and it has a 10 times optical zoom and a 12-megapixel sensor which allows you to get up close and get an excellent shot. And because it has been attached to the phone and it is seamlessly integrated, you can share that shot in a moment. The mod has a mechanical shutter key similar in nature to a true camera where a half deep press locks the focus and a full press captures the image. You have got a toggle for zoom wide to telephoto and there is a separate power key and then you have a Hasselblad designed camera grip to make shooting more comfortable. The other thing is all  the phone functions, the imaging is done from the phone itself, so instead of hitting a power key, I can just hit the camera icon to launch it or if you are familiar with our quick action gesture that turns on the camera, two shakes on the wrist activates it. Hasselblad has provided a couple of options which are very nice for photography. Obviously you can shoot in colour but it has also given me the ability to shoot in black and white jpeg. And what is really great for those photobugs is that you can get RAW plus Jpeg, so that you have a complete control over the image and Hasselblad is providing their focus software free of cost as a RAW convertor and editor. There are a variety of scene modes starting from sports to portrait to landscape scene mode. It also has a full Xenon flash, and when the camera is wide the effective range is about 5 metres. We also have a professional mode in the software which is on our phones but we have also made it available through Hasselblad True Zoom Mod. So you get things like white balance, shutter speed, ISO setting and exposure compensation. The mod also features optical image stabilization as well. So the Moto Z has OIS support and you can zoom while recording a video.

Does the mod itself has the OIS in it?

Yes, the True Zoom mod has the optical image stabilization for still imaging and it’s got an electronic image stabilization for videos.

How long did it take to make these mods and this phone?

We have been working on this for two years now and we had invested a significant amount of engineering effort and resources into it. We have tried to make it extremely user friendly, extremely elegant solution. So if you have noticed, then these are not just add-ons, this is a complete ecosystem. They are designed in way to work together from start to finish - whether it is the Moto Z or the Moto Z Play, all the mods works seamlessly with them. The Moto Mods are designed for the Moto Z phones and will work with the Moto Z phones in the future. So let’s say I bought myself, the Moto Z Play today and a couple of mods. Next year I buy my wife the successor of this phone. The mods I buy today will work with the successors as well. We also found that the consumers will find value in the entire ecosystem. We will make sure that the mods you buy today will work with future Moto Z phones.

Is there a battery in the camera mod?

No, there is no battery in the camera and the reason why there is no battery in the camera mod is that in things like projector, where probably streaming videos for an hour or two uses a lot of power, extra battery is needed. But in the case of camera mod, it only uses battery in Xenon flash and zooming in and out, but it doesn’t use it to the same extent as when you are streaming music or videos. So we decided to make it little bit thinner, little bit lighter by not putting the battery.

So the Moto Z runs on stock Android?

Yes, as you guys know, our philosophy is to give a pure Android experience which is as close to stock Android as possible. We don’t include any superfluous UI, what we do is add some apps like our Moto actions that we think improve user experience.

Do mods complicate developing and delivering updates?

No, it doesn’t. We just worked the updates as we do traditionally and then there are the updates for Mods. In the Moto Mod setting, if there is an update for the mod, it will either automatically notify or you can easily search if there is an update available. So from update perspective, it will be seamless to the user. Our intention is to upgrade Moto Z family to Nougat. We are working on the schedule.

One of the phones does not have the traditional headphone jack. Can you tell us why?

The Moto Z Play has a 3.5mm audio jack and the Moto Z has the audio through USB Type-C jack. If I hold both the phones together, then you will know why. If you look, the size of the 3.5mm headset jack is big. So in order to make the Moto Z, world thinnest smartphone, we could not fit the 3.5mm audio jack in it. If you are familiar with USB-C audio, it is as good as and better than the 3.5mm jack. And we know that the consumers may have their favourite headphones and they want to use has a 3.5mm plug, so we are including an adapter in the box, so that you don’t have to leave your favourite headphones behind.

The last thing I would like to share is that we have come up with a Moto Mod developer kit to the market. It is available for everyone who wants it and with the kit you get the hardware as well as the software development kit inside. So anyone wants to build the Moto Mods, whether it is a hardware manufacturer like partners like JBL, or it is a start-up or couple of university students, anyone can do that and through our parent company, Lenovo, we are actually offering up to 1 million dollars available in seed money for certain Moto Mods idea. So let’s say there is a company who wants to develop a Moto Mod, they can submit the idea to us, we will evaluate the idea and we may invest in their company to help them commercialise the Moto Mod.

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