To every manufacturer that dubs a feature innovativeChase Bonar - Contributing Editor
Take a hike.
You know what's innovative? DOS. Binary. The light bulb. Camouflage. A diaper. Catnip. The color Orange. A 1.6-liter V6 producing 600+whp.
You know what's not innovative? A plate. Potato. The moon. Fire. A telephone. The word polycarbonate.
The marketing teams of Apple and Samsung used to have the luxury of proclaiming "Innovation!" at press events with very little argument. However, these days, you can't update a name and get away with innovation anymore. This is my main problem with the word innovation; it's misconstrued.
I know this person, who's a friend of a friend, that really knows his adjectives. Sometimes, he says Super AMOLED instead of display. Other times he says camera instead of iSight. I once caught him saying multi-core instead of octa-core.
But most of the time, he just says creative instead of innovative and I think he's a genius for doing so.
This very same person would cry in agony if he heard that a certain Korean smartphone manufacturer planned on adding eye-tracking software and marketing it as an innovative feature.
Wikipedia claims innovation "is the development of new values through solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or old customer and market needs in value adding ways." Merriam-Webster says innovation is "the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods." My takeaway from both sources is that innovation not only requires new uses, but new uses that drive market needs and restore value to old methods.
There are too many manufacturers mistaking "innovative" for new when, in reality, a feature's timing is not the only factor which drives innovation. No matter your idea of what classifies as innovative, you can guarantee that newness is only half the battle in a manufacturer's quest to use the I-word.
Innovation is most commonly misconstrued as being the first of something, when that couldn't be further from the truth. If you're looking for the newest thing, you're searching for an invention. More technically, an invention would refer to the creation of the idea. An invention is widely regarded as innovative because it's new. In other words, in no way shape or form is a smartphone a new idea. In fact, the multi-faceted purposes of a smartphone are akin to a computer, and newsflash, computers are not new.
The mere fact that we've dubbed phones as smart is diminutive and unruly as well. If you're looking for a feature of a smartphone to call innovative, good luck. It looks like we're going to be holding phones up to our faces for the indefinite future. My point in mentioning this is the term "smartphone" and the limitations of its title. How can one create innovation around an item that is so much more than what we call it?
If there is any innovation in the hardware features of a smartphone, it's the manufacturing processes behind them. Innovation lies in the methods humans have used to create our devices. Mass-producing the smartphone, and the logistical nightmare it must entail, is truly an innovative and wondrous achievement.
When manufacturers proclaim innovative features, I brace myself for disappointment. There are a few ways we can truly embrace innovation in our pockets. We've seen Youm Flexible displays steal the spotlight at the Consumer Electronics Show the past few years, and for good reason. No matter your opinion of the technology, it's new and will require new methods of use. These methods of use will impact all angles of the smartphone experience. Hardware and software features will have to be updated to provide practicality to a flexible display.
Basically, if you had second thoughts about how useful a flexible display is, you are completely justified. Innovation around Youm would provide the practicality and value-adding purpose to making a display bend. This process would be labelled as innovative.
If there has ever been a time for innovation, it should be happening to the mobile operating systems powering our devices. Less than 10 years later and we have only seen a slight evolution in the ways we use smartphones. The iPhone still has a home button, and is further proof that the Apple iOS mobile operating system has remained largely unchanged throughout the course of its existence.
We still swipe, tap, and long-press for certain smartphone functions. No matter the operating system, whether Android, Firefox, or iOS, we're still interacting with our devices the same way, one drag and tap at a time. In essence, the same icon drag and drop on your iPhone 5 is equivalent to a drag and drop on a Nexus 4 with Google's Jelly Bean operating system. It's somewhat upsetting to think that these features are being regurgitated with minimal effect on the way we use our devices.
I've long advocated swipe gestures like Canonical's Ubuntu mobile operating system, or BlackBerry's BB10 OS. The reason being that gestures largely influence the way we interact with our devices. Lifting your finger and tapping the screen is much less interactive than when you are forced to interact by swiping through the BB10 and Ubuntu interfaces.
My point is smartphone interaction has not changed, so stop telling me it has, manufacturers. You can point at larger screens as being innovative, but that couldn't be further from the truth either. The only thing unique about a narrow, oblong, 4-inch display is the manufacturing process behind making it. Now that's something that's never been done before.
Before you whip out your S Pen, say these three letters: P-D-A. The idea of a stylus even dates before the PDA. The first recorded definition of a stylus even had a different spelling. In 1875, it was spelled "stilus."
You know you're using old tech when you spell stylus with an "i."
That juicepack you've got around back of your smartphone isn't innovative in any sense of the word, either. Your smartphone may last a couple days on a single charge, but that idea is not new. In fact, I'm beginning to think it's a right. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who thought a huge battery providing a few days of constant use is innovative. Such a rare feature should not be mistaken for innovation. I wrote about my desire for innovation in the field of battery technology a couple months ago. Here's an example of innovation:
"We have seen researchers at Northwestern University develop a lithium-ion electrode that would allow a conventional li-ion battery to hold a charge 10 times greater than current batteries, but this was news in November of 2011." - What features should be standardized across all smartphones?
Take away that charging cable and let it revive itself, and then we're talking about innovation. Put that new lithium-ion electrode in the Galaxy S V, then call it innovative.
Reader! How do you define innovation? What new smartphone feature would you consider innovative?