Juile’s gadget diary – Why can’t Apple and Google be more like Sony used to be?

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I wrote a gadget diary post a few day ago talking about the Google Pixel XL that I have on order. Mark Ryan left a comment that really resonated with me. He said:

I have to say that both Apple and Google are really lost when it comes to mobile phone innovation. Pixel is not water resistant and no image stabilization. 8 core CPU is slower than the iPhone 7 which is having all kinds of issues. Neither company is leading the industry with innovation. Ditching all the Nexus users is a way to lose the small following Nexus enjoyed. The other Google announcements were also devoid of any innovation. Looks like Google is becoming more Motorola and less incubator. Too bad.

I responded back with:

I completely agree with you that Google and Apple have been resting on their laurels for awhile now. What I’d love to see from both of them is the way Sony used to be back in the old days of PDAs. Sony came out with some really interesting devices. It was like they were throwing all their ideas at the wall to see what stuck. That was a fun time for handheld devices and I miss it.

Depending on your age, you might remember the early 2000’s when it seemed like every couple of months that Sony was releasing a new PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) or ultra small computer with a crazy cool feature or design. We reviewed quite a few of them like the ones listed below. 

Sony CLIE T615C Review from March 2002.

Sony CLIE NR70V Review from May 2002.

Sony CLIÉ PEG-UX50/U Review from September 2003.

Sony Vaio VGN-U71P review from June 2005.

Sony Vaio VGN-UX50 uPC review from June 2006.

Today it seems like all the big name mobile device makers want their new devices to look like an iPhone instead of coming up with their own original ideas.

Do you also think that innovation is dead and imitation is king?

26 thoughts on “Juile’s gadget diary – Why can’t Apple and Google be more like Sony used to be?”

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  2. “…Do you also think that innovation is dead and imitation is king?…”

    What kind of question is that 🙂

    Consumers has only so much capacity to absorb changes. Sony is an example of how NOT to bring forth tech. Their offerings were disjointed, poorly conceived, and only partially functional….calling them “half-baked” would be kind. Where is the incentive for companies to innovate every few months when the removal of the headphone socket causes so much on-line handwringing and almost a mini riot on some forums?

    Innovations come in waves… when tech catches up with ideas (foldable/micro projected screens, direct eye projectors, neuro-implants, brainwave sensors, etc), new devices will absolutely follow. We, for one, are excitedly awaiting the “next wave!!!”

    1. I think it’s a valid question. Completely new features are pretty rare these days. The only innovations that come to mind from the last couple generations of smartphones are Motorola and LG’s modular accessories with the LG G5 and the Moto X devices. I didn’t care for LG’s modular implementation, but Motorola has done a better job. Apple’s removal of the headphone jack isn’t exactly an innovation. Now if Apple added wireless charging to their phones, I’d be willing to consider that an innovation even though it’s not something new.

      I just miss the days when some companies were not afraid to new things. Even if they were “half baked”, some of those innovations inspired the features we see on devices today.

      1. Actually, Motorola’s modular accessories remind me of “modern-day” Handspring Springboards. I had a bunch of those, back in the day, for my Visor Pro. Anyone else remember those? At the time, very revolutionary.

  3. apple has never been an innovator in tech, they specialize in refining existing technology to create new *experiences*. Google, on the other hand has been very innovative in the software space, but has been constantly dogged in the press for being too ‘nerdy’ and lacking the refinement of apple products. How is it any surprise that they tried to address their biggest criticism when they launched their first phone? By definition innovation and refinement are mutually exclusive, so please only complain about one or the other.

    1. >apple has never been an innovator in tech, they specialize in refining existing technology to create new *experiences*

      What nonsense and spoken like someone that has not been very observant in the tech industry space. Lets compare the hardware and software developed by Apple to the hardware and software developed by Google. Oh wait, they’re having their Pixel phone farmed out to HTC – and it’s hardware specs are about 2 years behind Apple’s.

      >By definition innovation and refinement are mutually exclusive, so please only complain about one or the other.

      By your definition? UI refinement is as much of an innovation as as raw hardware or software refinement.

  4. Removing the 3.5 mm headphone socket was not an innovation. It was done partly for bragging rights in the pointless race for a thinner phone and partly to force people to spend more money on non-transferable tech. I haven’t spoken to anyone who wouldn’t trade a thicker phone for a two-day battery life (I mean 48 hours). My iPhone 6 lasts less than 8 hours if I actually use it – ditto my Blackberry Classic. All the online reviews which report a full day’s use before charging really mean breakfast to teatime. If the motor industry had been as innovative then I’d be getting about 2 mpg out of my car, which would be too small to fit my family in, be unrepairable, obsolete in 18 months and I’d only be able to fill up at the manufacturer’s petrol stations. Car manufacturers have innovated massively in the last thirty years and managed to do this using less energy, not more. When I was a kid things like air con and electric windows were luxuries that you only saw on Rolls Royces and top of the range Mercs. Now I can get them, and more, in a car for less than £7k which does 55 mpg and is orders of magnitude safer than the cars of my youth. TV screens in cars were once science fiction, but now they are are an option on nearly every new car you can buy. Legislation has forced cars to become more efficient and competition has forced features – we need is the same sort of legislation for phones which might drive real innovation instead of proprietorial dick-swinging and give me a phone that I can take on a camping weekend and rely on without having to carry 2kg of spare batteries.

  5. Innovation = risk

    Imitation = profit

    As cynical as that sounds, it really is that simple. Smaller manufacturers can’t take the financial exposure that innovation implies. Larger companies are too concerned about the cash flow and reaction from stockholders so they cannibalize their own market. Apple, Samsung and Google make devices which all look and act the same. Xaomi, Motorola, LG, et al follow suit because there is a real market for an S7 that is lower cost.

    1. HP was known in the printer world for being the only company driven to “eat their young”. HP was constantly making their prior models obsolete through compelling feature enhancements. And then the accountants took over. Innovation is expensive and fleeting. Patents help to some degree but good ideas are easier to copy these days than ever before. What I find disingenuous are the companies that are continuously raising the prices of their tech without adding value. As a consumer, I refuse to upgrade my Nexus 5 until there is something very compelling not just warmed over ideas and a crazy price tag. Battery life? Still dismal. Thinner is the trade-off for durability. Let me drop my phone into my dash and the seats, mirrors, temperature & radio selections change to my profile. How about capturing the OBD info via BT to my phone? Takes another pricey bit of tech today and is not universal.

      How about Google Maps allowing for selections such a “scenic” and “lowest max speed” options? Let me choose from my phone. Why my phone not my “Life Alert”? I want this for my aging parents along with the reduced speed routing via maps.

      These are the kinds of features that would drive an upgrade cycle for me……assuming the pricing comes back down to earth.

      For those students of history, the top-of-the-line PC has always been in the ~$2,500 range in spite of the continuous speed, capacity and functionality improvements. How is it that each new generation of phone is $200 more than the previous top phone? Where’s the economies of scale to drive down the prices and keep a lid of the top end?

      Off soapbox now…..

  6. Also worth noting is that Apple is leading (so no need to innovate much on design – and doing much innovation is more likely to hurt them then to help) and that Google’s trying to solve a different problem: Updates. Google desperately needs to get an Android phone into enough hands to shame the other manufacturers into releasing OS updates for their own phones on a reasonable timeschedule. To do that, they need a basic broad-appeal phone that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Again, trying to be innovative is more likely to get you a ‘gimmicky’ phone that hurts that goal than it will help them.

    There is always room for interesting innovation, but at the moment neither Apple or Google is in the best place for it – their current goals are better served by sticking with tried-and-true.

    1. I guess it really comes down to the fact that mobile phones have become like microwave ovens. We all have one and they all do the same thing without many features that set one microwave apart from other microwaves. Until some ground breaking new feature is invented, phones will continue to evolve slowly in ways that aren’t all that exciting. I can accept this, but it does nothing for my gadget GADD (gadget attention deficit disorder).

  7. DStaal – if Google wanted to make other phone manufacturers or operators provide faster updates they could write it into the terms of the Android licence, couldn’t they?

    1. Into future versions of the Android license, certainly. Of course, that might well backfire – companies could just stop releasing phones with *any* new OS, since they already have a license to it. And of course I haven’t taken a look at the license (nor am I a lawyer) – changing it in that way might not be possible, or easy.

      But the basic problem is that the reason Android is successful is because the license is fairly open. Changing that would get a lot of push-back from the companies actually *selling* Android products (which mostly isn’t Google), and would likely make them look for other options – including old versions of Android, or custom software of their own. (Or Palm, or Windows, or Blackberry – all of whom have been run out of the market, but all of whom could be resurrected if needed, most likely.)

  8. I absolutly agree. Apple and Google are two sides of the same coin. They have killed off all competition, and they have nothing to offer consumers. They are not making specialized phones and spending their billions in profits making passion devices. Instead they continue to make the same boring devices over and over, and use cheap marketing gimmicks to get the heard to follow.

    I would love to see them make moves like Sony. Build a team of content creators and make the best music, movies, and games on the devices. Offer up a gaming phone built on iOS or Android. Heck, even partener with Sony or Nintendo. If they can’t do it then someone else needs to.

    With Sony’s return to profitablity I would love to see the real PlayStation Phone finally emerge. A phone built on scaled down PS4 hardware that could run all PS4 software, and cross play with PS4 over 4G would be the most brilliant peice of mobile hardware to come out in nearly a decade.

    Hopefully the end of this dead era of mobile innovation will come to an end soon This is easily the saddest time in mobile history in my 28 years on the planet.

  9. Lots of excellent comments already regarding innovation vs refinement.
    I’m not the techie that most respondents seem to be. And generally I’m not an early adopter.
    I’m actually trying to delay updating to ios10 because I’m fine with my 6 and ios9. This represents a decided change since my first iPhone. Nowadays my device is more a tool rather than a hobby and I don’t want to learn a new system. I’m willing to try new tech if it appears more useful. I know there’s a cost to this attitude. And I can’t really say I spend all my time doing things more worthwhile.
    Major revolutionary innovations just aren’t that common, though I stay on the lookout. I have no idea where the next will come from. And there certainly is room for more refinement with appeal even to an old fart like me.

  10. Whoa, Let loose the Comments of war!

    I have a Love Love, Hate Hate HATE relationship with Sony.

    Their Inovation and products were always a gadget nerds [CENSORED] Dream. I bought into them and loved many products. I think I owned the majority of the Entire CLIE line. They were by far the best Palm organizer out there. I invested in MiniDisc (you yougens won’t remember that flop), Sony digital cameras, memory stick. Etc. (No I didn’t go beta hehe). I invested in premium Sony laptops. All well designed and worked well….mostly. The problem I run into with Sony is the proprietary closed garden hardware approach. Especially when it comes to protecting their IP. Yeah I have boxes of media standards that never took off. I invested in Laptops which I could never upgrade to Linux because Sony would never release any info for drivers. But what really got me was eventually being punished by Sony for buying their Products. For a long time Sony products were of such high quality and build I was willing to over look these, but as time has gone on Sonys quality has greatly dropped.

    My Sony Horror stories.

    I finally got around to buying a DVD player. Coughed up $500-$600 to get one (yes this was awhile ago) I got a nice Sony DVD player. It ran great. Well great until it stopped playing DVD’s with anti-piracy measures. Which DVD’s did it stop playing first? Anything published by Sony Entertainment. Yeah so I had to buy a new DVD player. I bought a knock off brand at Costco. Which now 20+ years later is Still being used by my parents in their bedroom.

    LCD screens came out and I was moving, and didn’t want to move my 200lb 32″ widescreen HD CRT. I bought a brand new 40″ Sony LCD TV. It was a nice TV I had my Xbox and PS2 hooked up to it. I then stood in line and bought a PS3 on release day. Came home and hooked it up to my SONY TV. Turn it on an the TV Displays “HDMI DRM UN-AUTHORIZED DEVICE”. My Sony TV would not display the DRM protected content of the PS3. Sony’s tech support solution was to purchase the Standard Def adaptors for the PS3 and use that. No Sony that is NOT an answer.

    PS3 alternative OS. I purchased the PS3 model I did, specifically for the ability to load Linux on it. I had my entire house and entertainment system running though it. It was awesome. Then it stopped working. Sony decided it didn’t like the idea of letting people run an alternative OS on the hardware, and just turned it off. I could understand if I had hacked the unit to run it, but I purchased this devices with an ADVERTISED feature, and them boom gone.

    In the past Sony’s quality in hardware was second to none. Sure my Sony Digital camera required I use memory sticks at 5x the price (at the time) as the competition. But hell the camera WORKED better than any of the competition. Mini Discs over Tape? No contest they sounded so much better, yeah I had to stay in the Sony fence for media and devices but the products were worth it. Sony Laptop? Ok fine I can’t run Linux, but nobody has anything that comes close in performance and reliability. Sony receivers, TV’s, amps, were all the best. Buy honestly today? They don’t have the quality, value or innovations. The “Costco” brands of TV’s receiver’s etc offer more for less, and without having to deal with Sony’s over zeallous DRM/IP restrictions.

    Oh well, rant over. 😛

  11. Well I have the Motorola Doid Turbo 2– the one with the unbreakable screen and that is mostly waterproof (splashproof at least.) Last weekend it fell out of my pocket in the grocery store parking lot in the middle of a hurricane Matthew deluge. I drove home and realized I lost it. Went back just in time to see my phone get run over by a honda leaving the lot. My phone was face down in a puddle, had just been run over by a car, and still works great! Screen has one small deformation where a pebble must have been pressed into it by the Honda. Now that’s the kind of innovation that I can use!
    (No I’m not a Motorola salesman or anything, just a klutz)

  12. It’s interesting how, in a tech blog you compare Apple and Google?. You’d think you’d be comparing Apple and Samsung – oh yea, exploding phones. I guess that’s not a good comparison.

    As for Google, I assume you mean their farmed out Pixel phones with specs that are 2 years out of date. Not much to compare there either.

    It’s a shame your anti-Apple sentiment flavors this blog so much. There are lots of innovations happening in the Apple space and plenty of fans that would love to see them. You do everyone a disservice by your desire to de-emphasize Apple gear.

    You might as well change your blog to Android Gadgetter.

    1. Just because I do not personally use an Apple iPhone as my daily driver, it does not mean that I’m de-emphasizing Apple gear. I think we review plenty of Apple-centric products. It’s a tight wire act. I try to make sure there’s a balance between Android and iOS related reviews and news so that there’s something here for everyone. But if you’re just mad that I didn’t keep the iPhone 7 and make the switch, I’m sorry that I disappointed you, but I am always going to pick what is best (and most fun) for me. Otherwise, this site would end up becoming a job, and I already have one of those…

  13. Well, one example of an innovative product which was doing stuff others hadn’t yet, and which was the best they could do with the existing tech, although they didn’t end up lasting, was the Tapwave Zodiac 1 & 2. So many features which weren’t out yet. I think the PSP was coming, and the iPods were not as functional. And the developers were porting tons of apps over to make it really useful. Ya don’t see stuff like the Zodiacs. A reboot with new internals (and different OS) would be kinda neat to see. At the time, it wasn’t a camera, and didn’t make calls, but what it could do made it pretty capable.

  14. The PDA heydays. I remember them so well, eagerly awaiting new devices to see which one would capture my fancy until the “next best one” came along. This also started my affair with The Gadgeteer which lasts to this day. What fond memories!!

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