Apple-Samsung Fallout: Beware of Innovation Overkill

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I can’t believe the doom-and-gloom predictions being spewed by pundits as a result of Apple’s patent infringement victory over Samsung in court. If you do, then right now designers are paralyzed with fear, and smartphone makers will likely skip the holidays until they can figure out how to make pinch-to-zoom work by clicking your heels together three times.

The real issue is not how companies can avoid litigation, but rather, how they should keep from cramming their devices with every innovation imaginable.

In retrospect, Samsung’s Galaxy S III overcompensated for the company’s growing image among some as a mere Apple imitator—and I’m not just talking about the huge 4.8-inch screen. Share Shot, AllShare Group Cast, AllShare Play, Pop Up Play, Smart Stay, S Beam, Buddy Photo Share, S Voice. Those are just some of the technologies that are unique to this flagship phone, which Samsung shipped 10 million of in just two months.

READ: 10 Biggest Threats Facing Apple 

However, if you need to ship your device with a glossary, then you’ve probably put too much in. Some of these innovations impressed—I love being able to transfer huge videos with a tap—but others were not fully baked. What’s the point of having a voice assistant if she gives you as many network error messages as real answers? The truth is that the S III would have been a hit with half as many innovations.

I find it amusing that Verizon Wireless just issued a press release boasting that attendance at its Wireless Workshops has more than doubled in 2012. This growth isn’t just due to the fact that there are a lot more first-time smartphone owners out there, but because “smart” devices are becoming too complicated. The proper reaction to Apple’s triumph isn’t to stuff innovations into your wares as a defense mechanism but to think harder about what to include. What enhancements will make taking a class unnecessary?

Motorola’s ironically named Smart Actions software is another culprit. The company’s utility for saving battery life and performing other tasks in the background automatically was so complex when it debuted that I felt too dumb to program it. A subsequent revamp helped, but it's still not intuitive. 

One analyst I spoke to last week posited that smartphone makers might move to Windows Phone 8 from Android if Apple continues to gun for device makers that back Google’s OS. Microsoft’s platform certainly is easy to use and seemingly safe from infringing on iOS, but being different alone isn’t enough. It will take a hugely successful launch of Windows Phone 8—and hardware that’s not a generation behind in terms of specs—to get consumers excited about software that has wowed only critics thus far.

I don’t know a ton about the new OS yet, but I do know that the Start screen will be more customizable and Skype will be integration. More important, apps built for Windows 8 will be a cinch to port to Windows Phone. That’s a behind-the-scenes innovation that’s the real game-changer for Microsoft.

Google itself recently demonstrated the true meaning of innovation with Google Now. This hallmark feature of Android Jelly Bean doesn’t just ape Siri like so many other copycats. Google Now anticipates the user’s needs and presents information you want to know without asking, such as the score of last night’s games and nearby places to eat.

The winners in the wireless market going forward won't be companies who merely attempt to avoid Apple's wrath. They'll be  more deliberate about the new features they roll out, the features they delay, and the ones perhaps they never debut.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.


Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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  • Joey Says:

    I wish there was a better way to say it, but here it is - "Good job!" Its amazing how many Apple-haters want to take this story and tear into Apple's heart and ridicule them in a public forum. The question has never been "why is Apple so much better" but its "why are they not as good". The answer becomes clear when you read that they (Samsung) couldn't even come up with original design ideas on their own and had to have an iPhone in front of them to make the phone they did come up with.
    So, your perspective is right on. Apple's competitors need to NOT worry about what Apple is doing, but what can they do to make their products unique and better for their customers. (Hard to do - I know - but its the only way to compete - LEGALLY)

  • Thinus Kriel Says:

    You sound a little sour that the iPhone and perhaps the WP8 phone is falling behind in features. I own a G2 and it does have more features than I use. Some are not very usable in my opinion, but do I regret having them on my phone? Absolutely not ... I just don't use them. I play with them at first to see how I like them and then decide whether I use them or not. But I love playing with them in the first place and some I do find useful. I respect you opinion, each one to his own, but to say that the others copied Siri is not factual. It only detracts from your credibility.

  • Craig Quirolo Says:

    I am impressed with the solar charger available for the new Galaxy S lll. If the claims are correct that a 40 minute full charge is possible...., what a device for developing countries and outdoors-men.

  • Martin Says:

    -an american court judging in a case of an american against a japanese company is far from a being respectable for anyone ot there outside the US. These are mobile devices , and : exactly you wont use them with your knees - its simply in their nature to look and work similar. The same as Apple had to make ipads similar to older tablets from other companies. Long live Samsung and competitive progress from which consumer can take advantage- Long f***CK d**mn apple and their poser fanboys

  • Chris Says:

    This blog is appears to indicate that If i invent the handle on a coffee mug, nobody should be able to have handles on their cups. Furthermore, your cup doesn't really need a handle to be cool, most users will get confused on how to grip said handle, so just deliver a cup ... maybe toss in a cool logo print but steer clear of too many things like drip edge safety lips, lids, holders, etc. Stick to non-brain requiring technologies like heat resistance.

    Innovation comes from both wins and losses. Developing a product that may have a voice AI PDA that the system fails constantly may appear to be a bad idea, but with refinement, is an awesome idea. Apple and Siri aren’t the first voice PDAs on the block, no more than they will be the best or last. I think the fact Samsung lost the law suit is kind of dismal for several reasons. If you haven’t picked up on the fact that we are moving toward a patent war front, you have had your eyes glued shut. Companies aren't focusing on innovation as much as they are about silencing the competition. Why create a new automobile, if the one you designed 5 years ago is still selling good? The auto industry is a proven example of corporations focusing on profiting at the highest level vs. innovating at the highest level. I was a GM fan almost my entire life, but Ford and Foreign automakers are making larger strides to developing better cars than GM over the past several years.

    Intel for instance has made innovation the foundation of the business. Tick Tock concept says Intel will consistently pump out new stuff, EVERY OTHER YEAR, while enhancing current stuff every other year. Just because a new processor comes out, and doesn't sell well, doesn't mean they wait to ship the next product to continue milking the current, or throw a patent suit on AMD or VIA to quiet the competition so they can continue to hold market share.

    Apple does 1 thing good; it develops EASY to use technology. Putting high tech advanced gadgets into the hands of the otherwise lacking in technical expertise users. Samsung’s products that are quite similar in fashion are by far way more confusing to operate and use. Both devices happen to be rectangular, both happen to have a “touch” capability. Both have similar ‘gestures’ to operate the device, while one is limited in confusing screens and features, one is overloaded with customization and features. I prefer the Samsung product any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I don’t have to conform to the limits of Apple or the store that Apple imposes. Having said that, I recommend the Apple product to anyone who isn’t a techy due to its inherent ease of use.
    This was no more than a battle to break ground on a patent war. The big fish like IBM and Google are sure to be targets now that the first war was won. Fortunate for Samsung, they make the very processor that goes into the Apple iPhones. So having the law suit to stop selling their own phones, they are still selling the chips that make all the competition phones glow. Other companies may not have been able to walk away from such a law suit so healthy. Look to see many “HUMANs” suffer the wrath of this war on a financial scale when corporations fold under the patent war leaving joblessness in its wake.

  • Mike Says:

    So you really think iOS is better because it does less or because you weren't smart enough to use Android features?

  • haroun Says:

    " All things should be made as simple as possible...but no SIMPLER!", A.Einstein.

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