My Smartphone Doesn’t Have to Be Revolutionary

Last month, both Apple and Google held press conferences showcasing their new operating systems. Both were greeted with loud “aha”, followed by shouts that Apple is just an imitator these days. Here’s an unpopular opinion: I don’t care.

Apple and Google have taught us to expect amazing things. By releasing new operating systems and phones every year, we think we deserve a revolution with every iteration, because that’s what we saw when these products were new – but that’s okay. It has not been possible to innovate at the same rate for many years. Moreover, it is useless. Do you remember the Amazon Fire phone? It was new and different. That sucks too. Even recent Apple and Google innovations such as Apple Pay, Passbook, Google Wallet and Hangouts SMS have been met by most users. After nearly a decade of using these devices, we have reached a point of diminishing returns. We no longer need disruptive technology, we just need our devices to do what they already do … better.

For example, in its keynote address, Apple spent three minutes talking about adding public transit routes in iOS 9. Think about it. In 2012, public transport routes would be briefly marked. This is now a whole part of the keynote speech. It’s far from revolutionary, but it’s an iteration that Apple desperately needed (and still needs as it only launches in a handful of cities). But that’s really all I want. Small useful iterations.

If you look at the list of Android M and iOS 9 features, you will notice that they are very similar. Both companies have created operating systems that anyone can use from the get-go. They have common gestures, similar notifications, and a set of features that make it easy to switch between them. A regular iOS user can immediately pick up an Android phone and use its basic functions, and vice versa. The two had been playing with each other from the start and it really started to show.

In this sense, platform wars are not as important as they used to be. Both Android and iOS are good. Both are suitable. And more and more, you can use all your favorite services on both devices. Apple Music will be available for Android. Google Play Music works on iOS. More importantly, the third-party services that everyone uses, such as Spotify, Facebook, and Netflix, exist on both. Any normal person cares if you are using Android or iOS? No. And at the moment there is nothing to stare at the new phones because we’ve seen them all before. Okay. I don’t want to talk about my phone anymore.

And it’s okay for Apple and Google to repeat each other. Big steps have been taken, and it’s time to take small ones. iOS 9 is the snow leopard of iOS: it’s about hashing the fundamental ecosystem and making everything work better together. Android M is the same. Is Apple trying to catch up with Google with features like Siri’s new “proactive” responses? Yes, but that’s good. This means they are really paying attention to what else is going on in the industry and finally got their heads out of the sand and looked around. Is Google trying to catch up with features like fingerprint authentication and app permissions? Yes, and that’s good too. The more these two companies compete with each other, the better for all of us.

This looks like the latest phase of smartphone innovation. From now on everything will be better, faster and more efficient. Your smartphone is not a revolutionary new product; it’s just another device.

Of course, both Apple and Google have some other great new operating system tricks. Everyone continues to improve their personal assistants , helping us manage the huge flow of notifications, events and notes that we used to rely on. Google Now On Tap sounds incredible, and multitasking on the iPad – Windows derivative or not – will be useful. Siri’s new features will make it a lot better. In future OS updates, we’ll probably see more of these small, incremental improvements to existing services. But now it doesn’t matter which operating system you choose. It’s all about your preference, because they all do the same thing.

Continuous innovation is not sustainable for the company or its users. iOS 9 isn’t proof that Apple has lost its innovation, it’s just proof that these phones are finally reaching their potential. Innovation will come in the form of new kinds of devices, not modifications of smartphones. What important new phone features do you really need (besides better battery life or better performance)? I don’t want to learn to use a new smartphone operating system every year. I want to be able to treat it like a household device: it should disappear from my daily workflow so that I don’t have to think about it.


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