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Apple-Samsung Fallout: Beware of Innovation Overkill

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.

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.