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Motorola phones: Going, going...green?

The handset maker will launch an eBay auction next month, giving the highest bidders a chance to customize parts of the v60 cell phones they win.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
2 min read
Motorola is giving people 100 chances to design their own phone.

The handset maker will hold a three-day auction on eBay next month that will test a new way for the slumping wireless industry to sell cell phones. In the auction, people will bid on 100 Motorola v60 cell phones, and the winners will be able to customize parts of the handsets that are normally off-limits.

For instance, auction winners can add a choice of patterns and colors to the badge-shaped portion of the phone's flip cover, which displays incoming call information. Winners will also get to replace Motorola's or the carriers' logo on the body of the phone with a 10-letter phrase of their own choosing, and the company will enter the winners' list of contacts into the phone.

Customizing phones is not a new trend for the wireless industry. Cell phone owners have been offering ring tones, screen savers and other accessories for sale so the millions of people who own the same type of phone can set themselves apart from the pack. Phone makers only provide a set number of design choices, though.

"There are a lot of things a consumer can do already. We're taking it a step further," said Chip Yager, Motorola director of channel development. "We know that there are a lot of customers out there that want this. We'll see how people take to it."

Whether other handset makers follow remains to be seen. For instance, Dana Knight, a spokeswoman for San Diego-based handset maker Kyocera Wireless, says the company is sticking with just selling phone accessories for now.

v60 But competitors might be forced to follow Motorola's lead if the auctions take off and become a success, said wireless analyst Brian Prohm of Gartner Dataquest.

"This could continue to resonate louder and louder," he said. "This could open up a Pandora's box."

The auction is also taking full advantage of the Internet, which is supposed to be the next frontier for cell phone sales but now represents only about two percent of all phone purchases, Prohm said. Auction winners will do all of their "design work" at a Motorola Web site.

The number of phones Motorola or any other large-scale phone maker could conceivably customize at the direction of a customer is likely very small. A major production facility would literally come to a standstill if every phone had to be tweaked a certain way, Yager said. But Motorola said it's willing to find out just how far it can push the envelope.

"It's a high-class problem to have," Yager said.

Motorola has not set a minimum bid price for the auction yet. The phone lists at $380, though its price varies from carrier to carrier.