RIM BlackBerry’s event. Soon, MWC too. Phones are being announced at a pace faster than ever. Now, step back, and look at every phone hardware that was announced over the past month. What new does each of these recently-announced phones bring to the table, with respect to hardware only?
Nothing. Except for increases in screen size.
Because, screw research and development. Let’s just make phones larger, and larger, and larger so people buy them. Let screen size be the only differentiating aspect within our lineup. No need to improve on battery life, hardware design or anything else. Just enlarge and resize the damn thing. After all, it worked for Samsung, right?
Oh, and while we’re talking about screens, let’s just increase the resolution so we have the best specs sheet. Ignore the fact that power consumption will triple, costs will rise and the unaided eye will not be able to tell the difference between 350 ppi and 400 ppi pixel density anyway.
Enough sarcasm already, time to move on.
The problem of stagnation is not just with phones; laptop makers, camera manufacturers, etc are all guilty of a similar behaviour. The industry is not set up to deliver what people want; instead, it’s set up to deliver what is easy to make and what sells with a large profit margin.
The problem with me-too phones
Whether large phones are good or bad is subjective, and I’ll leave it up to others to decide. But here’s the deal: if a larger screen is all your company “innovated” for a new product, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Phones are still great, yet at the same time terrible. Here’s a list of things I’d like to see improved in phones:
- Battery life (Motorola got it right with the Razr Maxx HD)
- Display colours (hey, HTC nailed a display with the One X last year, why can’t you?)
- Hardware design (*ahem* Nokia and HTC)
- Prompt software updates for Android and Windows Phones
- Better camera sensors
It’s interesting to note, each of the possible improvements listed above are present in at least one phone out there. No one has been able to put ‘em all together into one great product. Well, actually, two phones come really close to merging all good qualities of a phone
These two phones aren’t perfect in any one category. They may not be the best camera phones out there, however they are still great camera phones. They may not be THE fastest, however they’re among the fastest. These two phones are not one-trick ponies, but all-rounders.
Of course, I’m talking about the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S3. And people wonder why Apple and Samsung are the only ones making real money.
The above is a clear example of how most companies are keen on selling lazily-built products at a high price than actually building a great user experience. The secret to success is building a great product everyone would love to use. Is that too much to ask for?
Stagnation among laptops
See that graph up there? According to StatCounter, the most popular screen resolution in the world is 1366×768, a resolution that has been around for almost a decade on desktop monitors and laptop screens. Go out in the market today, and most laptops, even many of the high-end ones, have 15″ screens at that resolution.
Why am I pointing this out? Because 1366×768 looks so pixelated and last-gen on laptops, especially in an age where smartphones are breaking the limits on pixel densities. Or, why even look at smartphones, when one very specific laptop maker produced a really great screen on a 15-inch laptop form factor. And suddenly, every other laptop screen looks lame in comparison.
Why haven’t other laptop manufacturers introduced laptops with better screen resolutions? Because they’re making a lot more money selling cheaper products with low-grade materials at high price points.
(Granted, some laptop manufacturers other than Apple have introduced high-res screens on high-end models, but a) the vast majority of laptops in their lineups are still stuck in stone-age era screens, and b) no high-end non-Macbook has a screen resolution as high as 2880×1800)
Screen resolution is just one stagnant detail in laptops that I picked. Laptops have been terrible ever since they have been in the market. All of them heat up like cars in Arizona during summer, they also run out of juice the moment you need them, blah blah blah. And most of them still look like plastic wrapped around a pre-made motherboard.
The end to innovation (well, not exactly)
While large companies are re-hashing and releasing the same products over and over again, small companies, indie hardware developers, et al are growing stronger than ever, thanks to the rise of platforms like Kickstarter which truly encourage great new ideas to develop, get funded and flourish. These indie developers and their creations show exactly what’s best about technology; there are no limits to innovation, possibilities are endless and turning crazy ideas into products is very much possible with dedication, hard work and support.
At the same time, the research wings at the likes of Google, Microsoft, Apple haven’t completely shunned innovation. Whether it’s fixing existing problems like laggy touchscreens or introducing new breakthrough products like augmented reality glasses, it’s very much obvious that the giants are not fully asleep. However, they are not fully awake either.