warhol_motorola

Would you design the future of Google with a “Cabernet Purple” or “Spearmint” backplate? That’s the question Motorola Mobility asks with the Moto X, the first major product the company has announced since being acquired by Google in 2012.

The Moto X is a middling smartphone with a few noteworthy features, including the ability to be controlled solely by voice commands and a screen that displays the time and notifications without having to be fully turned-on. But for many consumers the most notable aspect of the device might be the stunning number of variants that will be available at launch.

Nearly every aspect of the Moto X can be changed, from the color of its backplate to its storage capacity and the wallpapers that ship as part of its operating system. The Verge reports that there will be 504 variants of the device available at launch, all of which are available through the Moto Maker website. (AT&T will be the only carrier to offer customized units when the device launches later this Fall, but that restriction is expected to be short-lived.)

Most smartphones, and many consumer electronics products in general, are available in just a few colors. The iPhone 5 comes in black or white. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is available in black, white, and brown. The list goes on, and illustrates a concept best explained by Andy Warhol:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

Warhol’s statement applies just as well to aluminum-and-plastic clad smartphones as it does to saccharine elixirs. Your iPhone is the same as my iPhone, which is the same as the iPhone used by the bum on the corner. (Which is something you can actually witness on the streets of San Francisco or New York, oddly enough.) Apple took the time to develop manufacturing practices that produce devices that it claims are identical at the micron level, and they’re damned well gonna put that equipment to use.

Motorola Mobility has taken a different tack with the Moto X. The device will be assembled in Google’s factory in Texas with a “brand-new, highly-automated process that can deliver any of the thousands of potential color combinations that customers specify,” the company tells Wired. Those same devices will then be shipped to consumers within four days. Apple developed a system through which millions of identical devices can be produced; Motorola Mobility developed a system that allows it to offer subtly different devices without a hitch.

Now the question is, will consumers choose the Moto X over the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4, or HTC One just because of its focus on chromatic variance? Shipping a variety of colors certainly hasn’t helped Nokia sell its Lumia products, many of which feature bubblegum-inspired chassis. And there isn’t much else about the Moto X that would make it more appealing to the general consumer than a device that’s only available in one, two, or three colors.

This is the device meant to show the world why Google would spend $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility: an average, “good enough” smartphone whose defining characteristic is that you can order it in any color of the rainbow — and more!