What Happened To Mobile Innovation?

Last week saw the launch of Apple’s new larger series of iPhone’s introducing the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus, however is Apple still truly an innovator or are they now playing catch up with Google?

For many years it was clear which company had been dominant in the smart phone market, with the original launch of the iPhone back in 2007 the demand was unprecedented, especially with the competition at the time being HTC (Under various different guises per network) and it’s clunky counter-intuitive Windows Mobile v 6.# operating system.

Google in an attempt to sway the market followed suit with the release of Android on their G1 (Dream) device and though it had early teething issues the operating system showed promise of things to come for those who yearned for an alternatively capable mobile handset, even braver the fact that they were going head to head at the time with Apple’s second iPhone incarnation – the iPhone 3G.

HTC G1
The First Commercially Available Android Mobile – HTC G1

It was adamantly clear at the time that Apple were the dominant market leaders, their devices were packed full of unique features, and designed to be incredibly user friendly and accessible to the masses. Meanwhile Google looked to be forever playing catch up, Microsoft thought that their (utterly troublesome) Windows Mobile 6.5 hybrid platform would be enticing to consumers and Blackberry/RIM were twiddling their thumbs complacently with a majority corporate market share.

However, for Apple somewhere down the factory line Revolution became Evolution, with each annual installment of the iPhone being an incremental update of the previous ‘Generation’. This allowed time for Google to catch up by enabling the other manufacturers to develop their own bold twists on the growing Android system, and as has ever been apparent in industry development, nothing drives technological progression like war.

apple-vs-android-vs-windows

Asides from the new range of mobile phones unveiled by Apple last week there was another ‘Revolutionary’ product launched during the keynote; the Apple Watch. This comes as no surprise as speculation has surrounded the idea for quite some time, and as we have come to expect the design is sleek, stylish and adaptable to different lifestyles with a range of interchangeable links and straps. However, this isn’t the first entry into smartphone/watch compatible territory (Thunderbirds aside).

Other manufacturers including Sony, Samsung and LG have already been experimenting with the technology via their Android handsets with several iterations already available, albeit with fewer interactive features than Apple’s new offering. The real progression for a smart watch would be for it to stand on it’s own accord without the necessity to pair with another device, it’s been trialed before with the likes of the LG GD910; an honorable attempt but ultimately lacking in functionality.

Consumer demand is the sole reason for these watches, not because people were asking specifically for them, but because our need for an always on the go connected lifestyle prompted the manufacturers (Apple now included) to steadily increase the size of the handsets to accommodate our multimedia and internet browsing habits. As a result of this it is becoming more cumbersome to transport our devices and the watch just acts as an intermediary for our data access rather than a truly independent device.

LG GD910 Smartwatch
The LG GD910 Mobile Smartwatch

These days a lot of handset features are very few and far between and are often influenced by one another. The ‘Android Marketplace’ (now the Play Store) directly tapped into the Apple trend for what we used to call ‘Programs’, then ‘Applications’, and now just ‘Apps’. The iPhone 6 series now has an emphasis on NFC communication for contactless payment branded ‘Apple Pay’, a feature already previously seen several years ago but never popularized on the (now redundant) symbian mobile platform.

Over the past decade or so it is abundantly clear that Apple have been the trendsetters, dictating what we want and how we want it, and they’ve been marvellous at it, creating a truly unique brand to appeal and cater to the masses (despite high premiums). It is also debatable in recent years how much their newer innovations have been inspired by other manufacturers and the competition from Android. With the inclusion of certain prominent features in iOS 7 (such as the top layered info bar) seemingly inherited from Google’s OS and with Apple now moving towards larger hardware on par with Samsung and LG you could be forgiven for thinking that they have been playing catch up as of late.

The Nokia Lumia 800 - Nokia's first Windows Phone mobile handset
The Nokia Lumia 800 – Nokia’s first Windows Phone mobile handset

While a lot of this influence is apparent in recent generations of the iPhone and iOS at least it signals a willingness to listen to the consumers and learn from their rivals. Android not only made a large splash when it entered the pond, it consumed most of it, and it seems that Apple are now taking action to remain relevant in a marketplace saturated with so many similar devices. Even Microsoft with their takeover of Nokia have managed to become a power player again with Windows Phone, their focus not on apps but on social integration and synchronization for businesses (a void left by Blackberry’s downfall). With many previous users having already transitioned to these platforms, Apple do not have the dominance which they once crafted, however with their recent changes following feedback they have taken a large stride in the right direction.

As long as these market giants exist they will always try to one up each other, but now it seems with only incremental updates to their hardware ranges in order to make the transition for their user base easier it might be a long time before we see anything truly innovative in this field again.

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