Market Insight

Motorola changes where the Moto Z fits in its portfolio – making room for new flagships

June 27, 2019

Gerrit Schneemann Gerrit Schneemann Senior Analyst, Smartphones, IHS Markit

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Motorola introduced its latest edition of the Moto Z-line of devices last month. The Moto Z4 is an evolution of the devices that came before it. The core esthetics remain the same, as to make the device compatible with the existing Moto Mod ecosystem, while changing other hardware aspects to keep up with the times.

In step with changes to the hardware, Motorola also seems to re-position the Moto Z series slightly within its smartphone portfolio. The latest version is not the outright flagship devices previous versions had been. Motorola is making room for more premium, high-end devices in the future.

A single new model

Unlike past years, Motorola launched one new Moto Z device. There is, currently, no Moto Z4 Play or Force edition. A quick look at the hardware specifications also indicate that Motorola is moving the Moto Z4 away from absolute flagship components in some areas:

 

Moto Z4

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 675

Camera

Front: 25mpx, pixel binning

Rear: 48mpx sensor, 12mpx output, OIS, pixel binning

Storage

4GB RAM/ 128GB storage

Display

6.39” OLED, 2340x1080p, 19:9 aspect ratio, teardrop notch

Battery

3,600 mAh

Price

On Verizon or unlocked. $499.99 retail, with 360 camera bundle

Availability

June 13th in the US, Canada later in the summer, other markets tbd.

 

In the past, Moto Z phones featured Qualcomm’s top of the line 800 series Snapdragon processors, while the Play edition devices used Snapdragon 600 series chips. With only one device launched, Motorola is eliminating processing power options. However, the battery capacity increased from 3,000 mAh on the Moto Z3 to 3,600 mAh on the Moto Z4. The combination of a less power-hungry processor and higher battery capacity should make battery life one of the key selling points of the device.

Screen resolution has been increased, and the company now claims 85 percent screen-to-body ratio. This is also the first Moto Z device with a notch display. Other Motorola device ranges have had notch displays in the past, now the form factor is also available on Moto Z devices.

While Motorola catches the Moto Z4 up to the latest screen trend with the tear-drop notch display, the company is reversing course in terms of the camera. The Moto Z4 has a single lens on the front and rear instead of the dual camera found on the Moto Z3.

Motorola is making a bet that it’s pixel binning technology and the 48mpx lens can produce better images with the aid of optical image stabilization and AI enhancements than its dual lens set-up of last year. Further, image quality must be such that having a single camera cannot be used by potential buyers as a detractor from the phone and raise questions as to why other devices have multiple cameras, but the Z4 does not.

Keeping the Mod ecosystem going

With the Moto Z4, Motorola continues to support its Moto Mod ecosystem – accessories which can be attached to the back of the phone to add new features and capabilities. The 5G Mod allowed Motorola to claim to have one of the first 5G ready phones on the market. The Moto Mod ecosystem has seen limited support from hardware developers and Motorola has added few new mods over the last year.

Yet, Mods will play a key role in the launch of the device. Motorola is bundling the device with either a 360 degree camera mod or 5G mod, for users on Verizon. Only Verizon customers can buy the Moto Z4 without bundle and at a discounted price of $10 for 24 months.

Motorola claims that Moto Z users who also have a Moto Mod are more satisfied than users without mods. But the ecosystem is still lacking momentum – the 360 camera mod was launched with the Moto Z2. While Motorola is keeping its promise to make mods compatible with multiple device generations, changes in the phone form factor are starting to make the mods just a little bit less perfectly fitting.

Bundling additional hardware allows Motorola to reach a $499 price point but might negatively impact buyers who are looking for an unlocked device. Motorola needs to find a balance between trying to create traction for its Mod ecosystem and addressing open market consumers. Motorola runs the risk of losing out on potential buyers who would rather purchase a $350 to $400 device, without additional hardware, rather than a $500 device with bundled hardware they might not want. Motorola is packaging the phone and the camera mod in one retail box, taking away some flexibility to adjust the sales strategy in case the bundle is not successful.

Placeholder

By changing the processor in the Moto Z4, Motorola is changing where the device fits in the company’s product portfolio. Motorola is increasingly focusing on its Motorola One devices, in addition to the E and G-series products. All these products are mid-range to low end devices. With the “demotion” of the Moto Z series, there is now room for new Motorola flagships.

One such device could be a rumored RAZR re-make, with foldable display. Motorola has not announced such a device, but rumors have been in the public for well over a year. If this device were to be launched, it would be one of the first to have a different take on the foldable display trend – instead of folding out, to make the device larger, it would retain a flip-phone form factor.

A new, integrated, 5G handset would also be another option to expand the flagship part of the product portfolio. Motorola used its Mod platform to add 5G connectivity to existing Moto Z devices. As more OEMs are starting to roll out their own 5G devices, Motorola should bring its own model to market soon.

Conclusion

With the Moto Z4 Motorola is trying to achieve multiple objectives: Delivering on a product promise to support the Mods platform for multiple device generations, while embracing modern design trends like bezel-less displays. Additionally, Moto Z devices will not be the flagships of Motorola’s smartphone range going forward. While the Z line moves more towards the mid-range new, unannounced devices are likely to fill the flagship roles.

Because of more focus seemingly placed on the One line and upcoming devices, the Moto Z4 seems to be a device launched in a transitional period for Motorola. It is now one of many devices Motorola targeted at the mid-range and the novelty of Moto Mods has worn off.

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