Gadget makers: Innovate, not iterate

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

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  • You are looking at the form factor of the next 10 years of computing.

    Most innovation is just incremental iteration.
    • Most? All innovation is just iteration

      Sometimes a particular iteration has a feature of function that is overly compelling - say two fingered swipe. But never confuse iteration for innovation.
      Your Non Advocate
  • Big "Iterations" work, too.

    True innovation is not necessarily required. Take, for example, the Galaxy Nexus phone. What did Samsung and Google do? They bumped the resolution of the screen, put in an LTE radio, and updated the OS. For me, personally, the software made the device desirable. For my wife, the phone became a must-have when she saw the screen. We both carry them now.

    Innovations are things which the patent system was designed to protect. Nothing in the Galaxy Nexus is innovative. However, they made several note-worthy iterations in one device, and that made it appealing.

    Of course, if Samsung and Google want to challenge Apple, some sort of marketing has to occur, and I haven't seen it. In fact, if my wife's old Android phone hadn't gotten to the point of being almost unusable (the carrier build used up almost 90% of the memory by default), she and I never would have gone to the store, never touched the Galaxy Nexus, and never purchased the device.
  • Get use to it.

    With the nature that is Android OEMs of having to release a new phone every few weeks, innovation becomes an afterthought. LG for instance have to keep pace with a Samsung with each phone releases (iteration), to stay relevant in the Android space. Compare this to say an Apple who releases a new phone once a year. They have months to a full year to innovative on their phones, whether it be hardware of software (Siri for instance).
    • So

      why then don't they? The original iPhone was an iteration ( a big one admittedly) but all subsequent iterations are pretty incremental.

      Sometimes a design is just the pinnacle of the device. Hard to bring an innovative update to a long handled, round point, shovel.
  • "Sameness" is unavoidable...

    not when the technology that goes inside a form-factor is readily available to all manufacturers, and the same software is, likewise, also available for all or most of the releases of all form-factors. It's like the apps, which after a while, all of iOS's apps will be ported/converted to also work on all Android devices; and people are clamoring for the same apps to appear on WP7.

    Eventually, all that will be required, is for a device to serve the most needed/used/wanted functions, and what we'll end up with, is devices which all perform, basically, the same. Price will be a major factor that determines between winners and losers, since, the tech inside is basically the same. Some consumers can be convinced to go with the provicer/manufacturer that offers the best combination of device/service/price, but, basically, those consumers won't be getting much difference on those devices. Marketing may end up being the area where the manufacturers can gain an advantage, since, their products won't be that much different. It'll be the "washing" machine all over again, where, people shop for price and function and looks, while quality of design/manufacturing won't matter much to most people.
  • Innovators Aren't Always First

    We've seen Apple "innovate" upon others who have innovated first in the smartphone and tablet markets. Being first isn't always best. Sometimes it's best to be second.
  • James,

    one of the issues innovators face is how little folks like change. You, for instance, don't like the WP7's 'innovative' approach to the phone OS, Metro. You prefer the various iterations of the static icons. I get that. Sometimes what works is the 'standard'.
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  • Innovation

    You are correct so much copying and incremental improvements with not much innovation??? or is it just that there is innovation, but that is not what companies are about. Creatively as an innovator I come up with an innovation that is revolutionary and a company takes the idea and works out an evolution or road map to drip feed this in to each successive incarnation of the product to create a sustained longterm upgrade path for consumers to shell out their money over longer period and in the long term this is far more lucrative for the company. They do listen but do not leap to the perfect product in one step. The cost involved to leap to a revolution has to be as affordable as the next generation product and that is 1 step rather than the 10 step plan to squeeze the hard earned money from the consumer.