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Firework or Flop?

December 2nd 2016

2016 saw one of the biggest failures when Samsung launched a flawed Galaxy Note 7.  Every portable device manufacturer tries to squeeze as much endurance out of its devices as possible while not burdening users with bothersome extended charge times.  Samsung abjectly failed to sufficiently test its phone – probably to try and steal some market share from Apple with its lacklustre takeup of the iphone 7.  Worse, Samsung’s fix proved just as unreliable and now users can’t even take a Galaxy Note 7 on a flight unless it is so switched off its nothing more than a paperweight.  The recall cost alone is now over $5bn, with a larger reputational damage to come.  The basic fact is that charging and discharging batteries is an inefficient process that produces waste heat – as any science undergraduate knows.  The moral of the story here is that you can’t change the physics.

Google's overly hyped wearable enhanced reality glasses launched in another hyped blaze of publicity a few years ago.  Google's device was definitely ahead of its time: It let you take photos, get directions and more, using your voice and a tiny head-mounted display. But this overpriced £1,000 gadget offered terrible battery life, and its interface was confusing. Most damning, society just didn't like the idea of users roaming around invading everyone else's privacy, with bars, restaurants and all sorts of other places banning the device before it even went on sale to the public.  Curiously, PokemonGo could be viewed as just a disturbing view of reality, is probably more dangerous as users have to look down at their smartphones rather than where they are going and yet has been embraced by consumers.  The lesson here could be that not only does the tech have to work right for the user, but also the wider community.

Thirdly, way back in the CES show in 1974 was dominated by the laserdisc players – at last video could be recorded and played back without all that bothersome tape.  Except everyone used VHS tape and by the time they were ready to replace their players, DVD had made the analogue laserdisc obsolete.  And just as Betamax was a better product than VHS, the key here is that timing is often more important than performance.

So what will make it in the busy end of 2016 season?  Drones will no doubt feature, even though the GoPro Karma doesn’t really do what it says on the side of the tin (remember the physics).  Amazon’s Echo will sell, even though it’s AI is still woefully inadequate so it’s still more of gimmick than a real time saver (does not work right) and the Sony Playstation VR is still too bulky (timing vs performance).  But what all these have in common is that despite their current shortcomings, they are likely to be the shape of things to come.

And that’s what innovation is all about.

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