Gadget makers: Innovate, not iterate

Summary:The mobile tech world is filled with gadgets all alike in form and function. It's time for OEMs to capture consumers' attention with something new.

The mobile tech segment has new gadgets appearing almost every day. There is no shortage of phones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets. While consumers are bombarded with news of devices all the time, rarely does one come along that makes buyers want to pull out the wallet.

The rash of me-too devices doesn't capture the imagination of consumers. There's only one way for gadget makers to do that, and that is to innovate, not iterate.

OEMs like to iterate products as that is a safe way forward. Who can fault them for making existing products better? They believe it sends the message that their last model was pretty good, so why not just make it a little better?

The problem is that's what everyone in the business is doing. Gadget after gadget is released that's just a little bit better (if at all) than others. Rarely does a device appear that has genuine innovation, the kind that captures the hearts and minds of prospective buyers.

Innovation is what most consumers want to see in new gadgets. It's not necessary to completely change the status quo to do this, it can be done in bite-size chunks. Make a device that does one thing that fundamentally improves the lives of owners. Successful products always do this in some form or another.

This is easy to state and not so easy to do. We'd see it all the time if so, instead of the reality that shows it is rare. But if companies put their talent to the task, instead of having them make existing products marginally better, it can be done. Device makers have an amazing amount of talent on staff, so put them to work.

Don't keep shaving a millimeter off here and there, or drop an ounce. While those are nice changes they don't really make a difference to prospective buyers. Instead find one thing that makes a fundamental difference for buyers and implement it well.

Creating a totally new type of device may be innovative but it's not necessary. Instead find a single innovation in design, hardware, or software that adds one functionality or feature that resonates with consumers. The one thing that makes their lives better just for having it.

Before folks jump in with the inevitable demands for me to give a few ideas, I admit I can't. That's not my job for one thing, and while it's easy to say I admit it's not easy to do. Otherwise we'd see innovative new gadgets all the time. Coming up with that whiz-bang innovation is up to the OEMs with all of their engineers.

This is worth pointing out as OEMs seem to have forgotten this. Why else would we keep seeing product after product released that is basically like every other one out there? Success in such an environment is not likely, and if success is achieved it is probably purely an accident of circumstance.

The gadget that appears that does something new for buyers, or makes something they do all the time easier/ better, has a shot at resonating with consumers. It's unlikely such innovation will be identified by focus groups, or surveys of existing customers. If consumers were more innovative than the clever folks on staff at the OEMs then that would explain the status quo.

All consumers want from the gadget makers is to be WOWed. Show us one function or feature that makes us go WOW, how did I live without that before? If the gadget is largely like others except for that feature, that's OK. Innovation doesn't require a device totally different from existing products. Just that one thing that's game-changing.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.