Innovation is a much abused word these days, manufacturers toss the word around like many other clichéd words and phrases in their press releases and promotional materials, sales reps blurt it out regarding every last tiny feature whatever they are trying to sell has. Even I’m contributing to the over use of the word by writing an article about it. But how often do we see manufacturers actually making something innovative? Not that often. I can count the truly innovative devices of recent times on my fingers. Here are a few of my favourite recent innovative devices.
Take Nokia with the Pureview 808 or the Lumia 1020, with the huge number of pixels in the cameras, meaning you can really take some wonderful pictures.
Nokia decided to bypass fancy design and ergonomics and went with the huge camera bumps on the back. They knew they had something special and that people would see past it. Nokia created a benchmark for mobile photography, that arguably no one has come near. Yet.
Apple totally tipped the smartphone industry on its head when they released the original iPhone all of those years ago, people like me were struggling with Windows Mobile hoping the latest hack or custom ROM would make their phone somewhat usable. Many people jumped ship. The rest is history. From that day onwards most manufacturers were playing catchup.
Sony really created the whole “Waterproof Phone” genre the other year, when the original Xperia Active came out, no other phone was waterproof or even water resistant. Sony had released something truly innovative; it had benefits to the normal user.
That innovation has continued today as many manufacturers release phones with waterproofing as a major feature. Now look at the Xperia range, the waterproof thing is well and truly here to stay.
HTC deserve a mention here thanks to their Boomsound speakers. Up until then most mobile phones had ill thought out speakers locations, normally on the back.
The quality of mobile speakers also left a lot to be desired. Most people chose to use Bluetooth speakers or headphones. Boomsound changed that, here were some loud front facing stereo speakers that you could actually listen to music on at a decent volume too. Since then most manufacturers put their speakers on the front, coincidence?
LG are next on my list. When the first leaked images of rear buttons appeared people laughed a lot. What were LG thinking, they would be so awkward to use and no one would like them.
Fast forward a few years and the LG G2 and G3 have sold quite a few units worldwide, I personally love the rear buttons, you soon get used to them and they are so intuitive, your hand just finds them without thinking.
It’s the turn of Sony again. The Sony Xperia Play was a great idea, Sony should have continued with the line. End of.
Imagine the world today if we had a 5.5” Sony device with a slide out gamepad, 32GB of memory and a Micro SD card. It would be so popular.
The design of a device is important these days, people don’t like too much plastic. They want something aspirational, they want quality. In my eyes two manufacturers have recently achieved this. Apple and HTC.
They both have made really really nice phones. The sort when you pick up you don’t want to put down.
Then lastly I’ve got a few notable devices that should really be in my great innovative devices of recent times, in no particular order.
The Asus/Google Nexus 7 (2012 version) totally redefined the tablet market being a usable and well priced device and brought prices down to more realistic levels.
The Dell Streak was pretty much the first phablet, I had one, I thought it was huge and amazing. I got it cheap from Tesco in a clearance sale. It taught me that I had to have large pockets in all of my clothes. From then on I was hooked on large oversized phones.
Asus with their rather bizarre tablets should be noted here too, they released the large 7″ FonePad which was a huge phone/tablet and they also released the PadFone which was a 10″ tablet with a phone stuffed in the back, absolutely bonkers. Innovative none the less.
No doubt I missed a few things out here, feel free to mention some devices you think were just as innovative.
What does the future hold as regards innovation in the mobile phone industry? I do not know. I’ve got a little list of some stuff I’d like to see though.
I’d like to see NFC usage actually take off. If the new iPhone has NFC in it I guess we will see NFC become more popular. I’d like to be able to pay for everything using just a tap of my phone. I’d like to be able to check in at the airport using a tap of my phone. I’d like to be able to tap random stuff out in the street and get information about things. I just want someone to actually do something with it.
I think manufacturers need to take a long shot with design sometimes, take Samsung with the original Note, Sony with the Xperia Play or LG with the LG G2. Now and again weird designs actually make sense, the consumer sees this and the product is a success. These days though form factors are either small touchscreen, medium touchscreen or large touchscreen. Where are the slide out keyboards, where are Blackberry style devices, why isn’t there a non touch Android feature phone? Someone please make something new and exciting, The closest we seem to be getting to something actually innovative is with these modular phones, the prospect of being able to build your own phone from a selection of processors, camera units, add on peripherals, coloured bodies and memory, fills me with a sense of excitement. I long for the day that I will be as excited as when my HTC Advantage arrived all those years ago.
Devices with two screens
At MWC earlier in the year we saw the Yotaphone 2, it really grabbed my attention. It was that phone that had an E-Ink display on the back of the phone.
The additional screen allows you to use certain functions of the phone on the back display, thus saving battery power as E-Ink doesn’t use much power. So for texting or news or basic text stuff you use the back and the rest you’d use the front of the phone. This is what I want to see in the mobile industry, someone taking an available technology and using it to make something really cool. If only you could get hold of one easily. The idea of a second display really does appeal though. Be it on the back, the side or on a case somehow really appeals, often I don’t want to unlock my device just to see what the most recent notification was.
The camera in a mobile device seems to be the main focus of consumers and manufacturers these days. If someone asks me which phone they should buy, they always end up asking “is the camera any good?”. People don’t like to carry a phone and a camera, preferring to carry just a decent phone camera instead. It’s this area that manufacturers don’t seem to be pushing within. Yes Nokia, Sony, Apple, LG and possibly HTC have all added innovative features to their cameras on recent years but it just isn’t enough in my eyes. Where is the smartphone with an optical zoom that isn’t flipping enormous? A few years ago I bought a Fuji Z1 Compact camera, it had an optical zoom that adjusted itself with the camera frame, no huge lense sticking out there. Why this sort of technology hasn’t transferred across I’m unsure.
I really don’t know what the next truly innovative device will be, you never know I might get hold of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and be blown away and never buy a new device again. I get that it is easy for manufacturers to just make iterative products, building on the success of previous models. From a R&D perspective this makes sense, take my Samsung Note Edge analogy. The new Galaxy Note 4 probably cost less to design and build than the rather odd looking Galaxy Note Edge, which will probably flop. So why would a company invest money in a product just to see if fail? For smaller companies this could be disastrous.
Does that leave us just waiting to see what the five or six big companies in the mobile industry release? I guess so, it’s a damn shame.
Have I missed any truly innovative products or ideas? Feel free to let me know below.
I crowd-sourced a lot of the ideas for this article on Twitter last night, so thanks to the following people for providing food for thought.
Featured Image Credit – Commscope