Last month, Samsung launched yet another iteration of its folding phone. Called the Samsung Galaxy Flip Z, the phone has a vertical flip design. More importantly, the new launch comes less than a year since the company launched its first foldable phone. Between then and now, Motorola, LG and have either launched phones with foldable screens or announced plans to do so. Folding or flip phones are the future of mobile phones, tablets, laptops and other electronics.
But is this what innovation has come down to?
In the last decade, we have seen phones with more RAM, better processors and more battery life, but many complain that the industry has stopped innovating. Google’s announcement was a big leap in quantum computing, but the idea of quantum computers is an old one, so even that won’t count as innovation.
So, is innovation dead? Are we moving to a phase of incremental innovations where there is hardly any change in technology? But then, when was an innovation not incremental? No doubt, we moved from brick-ey feature phones to smartphones within a matter of two decades, but one must realise that it took us the same time to move from smartphones to foldable devices.
Naysayers would point to innovations in the 19th and 20th century. But they also need to consider a time frame of change. It took us six decades to reach from an IBM supercomputer with as much capacity as today’s Apple watch, before that it took us 150-200 years to go from a machine to a computer. But from the advent of AI, it has only taken us 20 years to get a self-driving car on the road.
Design innovations or product innovations are becoming slow, but people fail to realise that software innovations are picking up fast. Artificial intelligence develops by leaps and bounds each year. A few years ago, only one or two robots could clear the Turing test. Now, a software developer in India or Japan can build software that can beat it. We certainly need a new measure, but we also need to understand that not all innovation may be visible.
It may not reflect in a radical design change, but it will surely reflect in our day-to-day life. Job changes owing to technology are a stark reality that humans are facing.
Two, and more importantly, our innovation impatience is growing. For the generation that witnessed a jump from Nokia to Apple, it was a significant leap. Then, there was Samsung with a better camera and more pixels. All within a decade. Now, we are growing impatient for a radically new device. The fold phones have come too late. People have started expecting more and imagining more from companies.
But this innovation impatience is also taxing innovation. More companies promising new products are getting listed on platforms like Indiegogo and crashing within a few years. More Theranos-es are emerging, promising the world to the people and swindling billions.
While we need to stop expecting too much, there is also a need to stop looking for innovation. The next few decades of change won’t be visible but will still be felt. Having a powerful computer in your earphone that can mute surroundings is one such innovation. Having to wear a watch or a band or a ring that can track movements more precisely is another idea. More important, having an on-call assistant that can respond to all needs is the most powerful innovation of them all.
Technology innovations have always been incremental. For the impatient ones though, this is the age of incremental innovations.
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