There’s an attitude out there among smartphone and computer tech enthusiasts which mirrors that of a spoiled teenage girl, hours before her lavish sweet-sixteen party. We’re talking about DEFCON 1 level temper tantrums behind the tear-soaked keyboards of hardcore tech lovers. You know the kind—they NEED to be nothing less than AMAZED by the next big smartphone release or its back to psychotherapy sessions with “Dr. How Does That Make You Feel.” It was just after the death of Apple CEO and innovator, Steve Jobs, that this intense air of dissatisfaction began to take hold. But what started out as language derived mostly from the high expectations for Apple performance and delivery, soon became a blanketed statement meant to describe smartphone updates that stopped “Wowing” us.
Earlier this morning I went hunting for rumors concerning the next iPhone release. After trawling about the various tech forums on the Internet, including Gizmodo, it became clear that the focus of many discussions revolved around the lack of innovation found in recent years concerning PC and smartphone roll-outs. Particularly, critics of Apple seem to be the most boisterous, insisting that neither its computing line nor smartphone products have introduced new innovation past the Retina screen. This viewpoint was reinforced in a hailstorm of follow up commentary, just as an Apple loyalist leveled the playing field with a photo of Samsung’s Galaxy III and 4 side-by-side. The two were nearly identical, and the sarcastic caption summed up the argument for both sides:
“So much innovation.”
But where is there to go after touch-screens and megapixel cameras in the palm of your hand have become commonplace? How do you amaze consumers whose lives are already engulfed by amazing technology everyday—technology which was unfathomable only five short years ago?
Often not discussed during the anticipation of new smartphone and computer updates is the maturity of the market itself. Faster processors and software features that bring together and integrate nearly every aspect of our lives—what more are we really seeking? What void do we feel is missing from these tried and true forms of mobile and computing technology?
At this point, it feels more like people are looking for something to FEEL new—a new form factor or ability that extends far outside the scope of what we may need or even want from technology makers. But as these markets reach ultimate maturity and saturation levels that have fulfilled every need our society requires, the only innovations left are the kind of scifi integrations for which our entire technological infrastructure doesn’t support. Think about it.
Sure. Let’s put a chip in our heads, or don alternate reality glasses that allow us to renew our magazine subscriptions by glancing at a newsstand. Let’s have a phone conduct round-the-clock monitoring of our heart rate and hemoglobin count automatically. And then maybe we can have a phone that allows us to take X-Rays of that purple toe we’re certain must be broken. By all measures, these abilities would be remarkable “innovations” for a smartphone market which currently doesn’t sport them. However, the act of bringing new tech to market is not a process completely independent from its environment. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had developed tablet technology in the late 90’s, but the world wasn’t ready for it. The environment and marketplace was not mature enough to support such innovations. At that time, the rich infrastructure of fast internet speeds, wifi, and mobile applications didn’t exist.
So, in the context of market maturity, its easy to understand why the latest smartphones end up looking just like previous generations. The rectangular touch-screens we use today are the most efficient and ergonomically sound form factor for mobile phone technology, and there’s not much else consumers will tolerate in terms of fixing what isn’t broken.
The “religious experience” of WOW continually sought by tech consumers is now being cut down by a market reaching a level of maturation that cannot be solved by demand alone. The simple desire for “something new” echoes a modern theme of boredom rather than a actual need to be filled by producers. Ultimately, in this situation, seeing becomes believing. People don’t care about faster processors and efficient software so much. Those innovations lay mostly hidden from our eyes. The new wave of demand has people wanting to SEE and FEEL something they haven’t before.
But this kind of call for a new experience can create a slippery slope for tech innovators who have essentially perfected the smartphone. The result of such pressure to reinvent the wheel can produce disastrous results as developers scramble to repackage software and hardware to feel like something truly unknown. It’s this exactly this kind of market pressure—market pressure which hails from a source of boredom—that produces releases like Windows ME. (Shutters) You don’t want to go there folks.
Everyone wants something new and exciting. Every time consumers gear up for a new smartphone or computer release, they tend to imagine an array of advanced features that border the fabric of reality. And yet, every time we hear about HD sound and video in a smartphone, or sensors that read your fingerprint and know your face better than you do, we forget about practically application. We cheer for the new bells and whistles but rarely ask the right questions: What’s the point of HD video if my battery dies in an hour while using it?
True innovation can only happen if it can be supported by the infrastructure it’s born into. And though boredom and the culture of fashionable tech may prompt consumers to look for a new toy, developers understand that current forms will not change until there is enough support for them.