SLIDESHOW

A behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the Moto 360

Motorola shows off several could've-been smartwatches—many nothing like the Moto 360 that just went on sale.

moto 360
It wasn't always destined to be a round smartwatch

During a tour of Motorola's striking new downtown Chicago headquarters, which is stationed in a large chunk of the monolithic Merchandise Mart, I was whisked from lab to lab to see how the company creates its devices, such as the new Moto X and Moto G, and of course, the Moto 360.

But the most interesting part of the experience was seeing the Moto 360 that could've been—with a rounded square face, a racing stripe along the strap, or even the blacked-out screen section on top rather than the bottom. Here are some photos of the prototypes and processes that helped lead to the watch you can buy today.

moto 360 square prototypes
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Rounded square prototypes

A non-circular face? Say it isn't so! Indeed, Motorola experimented with a wide array of possible Android Wear watch designs, including these rounded square shapes. They had numerous working prototypes prepared before deciding to pursue the Moto 360's circular design.

moto 360 band prototypes
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Early band designs

This is a look at some of the other square-ish prototype watches developed in the early days of Android Wear design at Motorola. You can see a slimmer band on the rightmost model—perhaps a female-targeted version—along with an interesting oval clasp design on a couple of them.

moto 360 watch faces
Credit: Andrew Hayward
A matter of bezel

Here we see a member of the hardware team explaining that once they settled on a circular watch unit, they had to decide whether to keep the bezel slim and have the black bar on the bottom, or deliver a chunkier watch that's fully circular. It's pretty clear what they ultimately decided for the Moto 360.

moto 360 faces closeup
Credit: Andrew Hayward
A smaller, fully-circular screen

We got a closer look at the proposed fully rounded face, and while that would have been great, it's clear that the trade-off would have been significant in terms of bulk and feel (plus a smaller overall display). We'll soon find out how well LG's G Watch R handles that challenge.

moto 360 watch body
Credit: Andrew Hayward
The body's build

Here we can see the circular watch body coming together, from what looks to be the initial plastic prototype into its eventual stainless steel consumer version. There's a much heavier-looking metal attempt seemingly shown in there as well.

moto 360 sportwatch demo
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Flashy and sporty

Motorola initially considered a circular watch that really popped, featuring a yellow leather band adorned with a racing stripe, but decided it was a little too sporty for their intentions. It makes sense, but I also can't help but want that version as an eventual variant of sorts. How about Moto Maker for watches?

moto 360 form factor
Credit: Andrew Hayward
The circular shape takes form

The hardware team shows off a completed prototype version of what would become the final Moto 360 design, but from there came the challenge of picking the best materials that would create the overall look and feel that Motorola strived for.

moto 360 sports compare alt
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Circular, but distinct

This closer look shows the overall design differences of the sporty watch compared to the final shape, ranging from the tail of the band to the little nubs that connect the strap to the core unit. The earlier design would have resulted in a less subtle look and potentially also less comfortable feel on the wrist.

moto 360 metal plastic
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Making Moto metal

A plastic link band for the Moto 360? Not likely—it looks to be the in-house prototype developed as they devised the look and feel of the premium metal bands, which were announced yesterday. You'll be able to buy the Moto 360 with a metal band later this year, or just snag the metal bands separately for the standard model.

moto 360 blackbar top
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Blacking out the top

Now here's an interesting idea: What if the black bar, which provides extra room to house internal components, was on the top of the display instead of the bottom? That's what this right model seems to imply was considered, and we can see the upside (no pun intended) of such an arrangement.

moto 360 3d render
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Impressive industrial design

As we wandered the lab, the employees pulled up 3D renders of the watch and rotated them—a likely facade of "working" so we didn't see what they're actually tinkering with these days, but it served as an introduction for the next part of the building, which showed how they can quickly generate physical prototypes.

moto 360 3dprint small
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Parts on demand

When the Moto 360 team needs a small component, they turn to this Cubify 3D printer, which can take a computer model and generate a component right in front of them. This helps them make minute changes to the design without having to bring an external manufacturer (and lengthy waits) into the process.

moto 360 3d printer
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Print-a-watch?

Creating a physical model of the full watch unit requires something much more powerful: this prototyper, which costs about $300,000 and can chisel out a shape at a dramatically higher resolution and consistency than the desktop 3D printer. Engineers can have the physical shape in hand within about 12 hours.

moto 360 strap cutting
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Avert your eyes!

Of course, the strap is a key part of the watch build, and when the team needs to experiment with a specific kind of strap design, they can have one laser-cut on site with this well-insulated machine. These aren't the mass-produced straps you'll wear, but they help get the watch closer to that finished state.

moto 360 exploded view
Credit: Andrew Hayward
Better than using a hammer

And finally, here's an "exploded view" of the Moto 360's final design, letting you see all of the individual components that go into making a refined smartwatch. That's a lot to fit within such a small, sleek frame—you can start to understand why the blacked-out bar on the display was deemed necessary.