Motorola's snap-fit magnetic puzzle-phone looks promising

The Moto Z phone uses a system of magnetically aligned components that snap on and off to add functionality, from high-quality speakers to extra batteries to a projector.

These "mods" are able to hotswap without a reboot in part because Motorola has exposed its low-level hardware to third-party developers, which suggests that there may be more scope for free/open and fully audited mobile devices, which are a holy grail for security nerds and free/open source advocates.

The good news is that Motorola is creating a platform that will allow others to innovate on top of it. The bad news is that if no one comes along to participate in the platform, it'll be a dead end. And the elephant in the room -- as with every platform -- is that Motorola gets to define the terms on which others can play, and will be able to use that to force out partners who are either challenging its profits or eating the lunch of its strategic allies, such as the mobile phone companies.

But as an engineering feat, the Moto Z looks impressive, and is a better modular phone than any I've yet seen.

Arshad imagines life-proofing mods, point-of-sale mods that could replace those horrible tricorders the UPS guy uses, VR capture mods, insulin-monitoring mods. Even a projector mod could be used for a thousand things. “You can stick this next to your bed,” Arshad says, “and it’s pointing up on the ceiling. You can wake up in the morning and say Hey, what’s my schedule like?” Google Now could project the answer up over your face instead of just reading it aloud. And it’s really not that far from there to Leia-style holograms. Arshad just laughs when I point this out. I’m not the first person to do so.

To carry all these snap-on tools, the Z had to be as thin and light as possible. Period. “If anyone even mentioned going over 3.99” millimeters, Fordham says, “they’re out of the room.” Motorola wanted to make a phone so thin and light that it felt normal-sized with a mod attached. But it also wanted it to be a best-in-the-world kind of smartphone.

Motorola’s Crazy Plan to Reinvent the Phone by Breaking It Into Pieces [David Pierce/Wired]