Opinions & Editorials

The smartphone race is slowing down innovation

By John Ortilla

There seems to be an ongoing race to create the “best” smartphone. Ironically, this may have an opposite effect in actually bringing something new to the smartphone trade.

Google announced their new Pixel and Pixel XL digital devices on Oct. 4 in San Francisco, two weeks after Apple released their latest iPhones, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Although Google co-branded their name with LG and Nexus, the Pixel is Google’s first smartphone and will be sold in stores on Oct. 20.

Apple and Samsung are the company’s primary targets in the smartphone market. For comparison, Google priced its 5-inch Pixel at $649 and the 5.5-inch Pixel XL at $769, essentially the same prices as the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus.

The iPhone 7 Plus currently has the best smartphone camera, but Google claims the Pixel has “the highest rated smartphone camera” on its Made by Google launch page. Google Assistant is also integrated into Pixel, an artificial intelligence (AI) equivalent to Apple’s Siri.

Additionally, the Pixel has a feature that turns it into a virtual reality device, given that you buy the separate accessories needed. The discontinued Galaxy Note 7 had this capability.

Ultimately, Google Pixel brings nothing new to the market. As much as we love our digital devices and always crave something faster and better, expectations can often get in the way of bringing something new.

Smartphones are, by nature, a continual product. Every year there’sa new version of a device that improves little from its previous iteration or is basically an updated version of the previous device. But if you’ve felt the latest showcases of new devices have started to feel “boring,” you’re not alone—and you’re probably not wrong either.

Think about it: five or six years ago, smartphones were slower, had lower resolution displays, bulkier builds and older hardwares. But today, everything is improved and phones have integrated AIs and slimmer designs.

Whenever a new device is announced, a set of characteristics and features are evaluated to judge the overall quality of a device. Qualities like design face more subjective improvements, while others are more technical.

How fast is the phone? How good is the camera? How long is the battery? How does the display fare with previous and competing devices? How is the device affected in mild or extreme weather?

Among these criteria, we’re always looking for the fastest processor or the improvement of a certain feature. But it’s quite evident innovation in the smartphone business is slowing down.

On Divisadero and Geary Street, I took a snapshot of my friend under low light with my recently purchased iPhone 7 Plus. It has a great camera and sometimes I find relief knowing I don’t have to carry my Canon single-lens reflex camera all the time.

But is it really worth changing over if you have an iPhone 6 or equivalent? Probably not, but for anything older, maybe.

It’ll be a huge improvement changing from an older device to the ones available today. However, we probably won’t see something as surprising as when the first iPhone was introduced.

The Guardsman