How much do you have to innovate to make a hit?
As a twenty-something, my generation is in an interesting place because although we grew up with some great technology, we have really seen some incredible advances and innovation take off in our adult lives. We can still appreciate how amazing it is that we are able to carry around tiny computers that make phone calls, search the web, stream music endlessly, and complete any other task we could ever dream of, and yet we still aren't satisfied. This wasn’t always the case.
I remember my family’s first home computer, it was painfully slow and very limited but it was like nothing we’d ever experienced... until my 3 year old sister put a penny in the CD-rom slot and it started smoking, but that’s besides the point. It was a huge step for technology and for the average American family. When my dad got a laptop (a light 20 lbs.) I couldn’t believe that you could use the computer in any room you wanted! In the late 90’s, cellphones started to really catch on. Not having to rely on landlines was awesome... but they were costly and bulky. I finally got my own cellphone when I was 16 years old: the Nokia brick. I loved that cellphone and logged an unreal amount of hours playing Snake on it. And yes, I know even the Nokia phones were great innovation in comparison to the true brick cell phone from the late 80's, much like the one glorified by "Zach Morris" in Save By The Bell. It was only a matter of time before cellphones became smaller, smarter, and sexier.
Fast forward to today and the new ‘normal’ is incrementally different. Did you know that over 1.5 million smartphones are activated every single day? Since the release of the iPhone in 2007 it seems that Apple and competitors have been constantly pumping out the latest and greatest, but now it seems with just minor upgrades. So where is this industry headed?
Our culture’s obsession with technology and convenience is obviously the driving force behind innovation, but when will these expectations become too much? We may already be hitting a wall as it appears that these ‘big announcements’ become less and less impressive. The pressure on software companies to be constantly reinventing their products has pushed them from focusing on the devices themselves to putting incredible efforts into the fanfare of it all.
The iPhone 5 is a perfect example of this. Many critics and Apple lovers alike agreed that the iPhone 5 was a very small improvement from the iPhone 4s. While the iPhone 5 really is an incredible device, the differences (larger screen, minor software updates) were not what we have come to expect from Apple as far as upgrades. Clearly this didn’t deter customers from buying the iPhone 5 as 5 million were purchased in the first weekend, but it really makes you wonder what they’ll come out with next. Will iPhone 6 simply be available in silver, black, and white with the same software and hardware?
More recently, we’ve seen a perhaps more exaggerated lack of innovation in the iPad Mini. If you’re iPad is just too big, and your iPhone is just too small... iPad mini is the perfect device for you! With the same guts as the iPad 2, it was rather disappointing that the iPad Mini was actually a step back in innovation from the fourth generation iPad that was released right along side it. I haven’t forgotten that the hardware is beautiful and unbelievably thin and light weight, but those seem to be the only major perks of this device over what’s already on the market.
In an effort to not let Apple be the only object of my observations, the Samsung Galaxy s3 Mini is in just about the same boat as the iPad Mini. Samsung took an amazing product with a huge following, and made it smaller and half as powerful. In their campaign to sell the Galaxy s3 Mini it’s only appeal is the ‘small screen’ (it’s still 4”) but they really seemed to have missed the mark on what their customers wanted. The appeal of the Galaxy s3 in the first place was it’s power and more than impressive specs... none of which seem to be in this brand new mini product.
Is innovation no longer king? What kind of innovation is it going to take for you to buy the newest and greatest device? Or have we simply become far too expectant of great change? What kind of unrealistic expectations do we put on technology that forces us to immediately want something that's not only better, but blows us away with excitement? We are all critics and it's much easier to be a harsh critic, but I do want to enjoy this technology and the changes I see. Furthermore, most of the current innovation is coming from those who would develop the apps to be used by these devices, not necessarily from the device itself. It's an interesting time and technology is rapidly changing the way we live, so enjoy the ride, push for innovation, and I hope we don't get caught in constant dissatisfaction over "new" technologies.