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It is Time to Dial Back on Smartphone Innovation

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Apple has launched its Apple iPhone 5S and 5C and, as expected, did not usher in a new era in smartphone innovation. While the new Apple offerings will leave a portion of the tech community underwhelmed, I think Apple got it right. With the iPhone 5S, Apple focuses on the basics. Apple made the phone a bit faster, gave it a bit more endurance, improved the camera, created a more convenient way to unlock the phone, with a nod to future-proofing with a 64-bit processor and a dedicated low-powered processor sensors. Basically, an improved model of last year’s model. Nothing earth shattering, but each new feature is something every user can appreciate.

The Apple iPhone launch is a breath of fresh air after months of seeing a lot of “innovations” of questionable value. Sure, many will find HTC’s Boom Sound a compelling feature. But given the limits of battery technology, maybe it might have been best to use the additional space to pack a few hundred more milliamperes. Similarly, the Active Displays and Touchless Control on the Motorola Moto X are useful. But it is a bit ahead of its time, bleeding valuable battery life.

GSM Arena’s 39 hour endurance rating for the Moto X, and 48 hour endurance rating for the HTC One are far behind the 62 hour rating for the LG G2, and the 69 hour rating of the Samsung Galaxy S4. The Moto X and HTC could have been released with less of a WOW factor, but with more battery life.

Sony’s water and dust resistant phones with shatter-resistant displays are cool. But the thin shatterproof layer is placed on the scratch resistant display. The problem is, the shatterproof layer is not very scratch resistant. Might be best to just dial back to scratch resistant, and let shatter resistant technology mature.

The modern smartphone is maturing. Like all technology reaching maturity, expect innovation to slow down. The reason is that, you will only get substantial innovation if something is wrong with the product in the first place. Today’s smartphones are pretty good. Forcing innovation, for the sake of innovation, is a bad idea. Focus should be on fixing the remaining shortcomings.

Instead, focus on giving users two to three days of battery life in real world use. Improve red-eye reduction technology in the still camera. Bring us Optical Image Stabilization for the video camera. Never mind if it has been done by Nokia and HTC. Integrate fingerprint scanning. So what if it Motorola and Apple implemented it first? Improve on it. Put it somewhere better, like on the side where a thumb or finger might naturally rest when picking up the phone.

Perhaps it is time for consumers and pundits to stop focusing on innovation. Manufacturers should consolidate and focus making a more perfect, though less innovative devices. Let innovation naturally come at its own pace. Really, it is up for you to decide, manufacturers will build what you demand.

7 Comments

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  1. I can agree with that, I still think we need a little wow factor, but creating a better over all experience does seem to get forgotten sometimes.

  2. I think Sony new lens is a good example of the kind of consolidation I would like to happen. Imagine next year. Would we rather see a Samsung Galaxy S5 with some new software feature or maybe just incorporate Optical Image Stabilization (been done) and and place a Xenon flash (been done) to help with red-eye reduction.

    Rather than spend time trying to build something new to WOW people, make every part of your current product perfect.

    Ultimately some new component will be developed which will lead to innovation. With the iPhone, it was the capacitive display.

    I suspect the flexible display will result in innovation. Indestructible phones which are not built like tanks and ergonomic smart watches.

    I do appreciate the comments though. Especially the contrary ones. Discourse brings knowledge.

  3. Is exactly what they said when the first iPhone came out. There is plenty of innovation going on, especially in software. Example, Sony’s new lens (as far as hardware goes).

  4. I know it might be hard to accept since we all love out smartphones. But the smartphone is the smartphone. We know what it can do, and you will not see any real advancements. If you are looking for the innovation and the future of Natural Language technology, look towards good glass.

    At the same time the smartphone has plenty of existing features that could be improved.

  5. Thanks for the feedback. Maybe I value battery life too much. But on the Moto X, sometimes I think innovation should be the province of the component makers. Motorola added two low power Texas Instruments processors to run two features: Activation Display (which also needs AMOLED tech to be useful) and voice activation. A month after, Qualcomm released its S800 which has on-chip support for voice activation.

    In the next few months we will have to see if Motorola’s investment in X8 development will pay off, or if the S800 does the job better.

  6. No one is stupid enough to rest on their laurels, Nokia and Blackberry had this approach and they’ve been left to die, (less so Nokia). The real problem is tacked on a bunch ‘features’ that don’t really work (like samsungs eye sensor). The Moto X/ONE added something that added to the experience without making a mess, that is the kind of innovation that needs to be encouraged.

  7. I agree with this article for the most part, but disagree with the weird comment on the MotoX. Definitely don’t think it’s ahead of its time, and based on reviews, a lot of others see it the same way. “Regulars” who don’t care about tech specs, will see that even more. The time is now for such a device. Everywhere you read you find out that the battery life on it is actually pretty good, with great little innovative features that people actually want to use daily. Some even mention that now that they use those little features, they can’t imagine not having them now. Those are good things to hear and read. You hear that overall it really is a great phone that just works, much like this iPhone. This article piece communicates strongly about not pushing innovation too fast, that makes sense, but I do not believe the MX should even be mentioned in the “too much too soon” category. If anything, just as this blog is praising that Apple got it right and is heading in the right direction, Google/Motorola also got it right and is definitely heading in the right direction with the Moto X. Also on a soft mention, HTC did a really good job (this time) on keeping the 1 pretty simple, and the battery life on it actually isn’t that bad when compared to the iPhone 5 from last year. After watching a few movies and videos in stereo sound, I definitely would not trade that for a little bit more battery.

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