The hardest part of launching a new smartphone like LG’s G2 comes right at the beginning, when everyone is waiting for the big reveal and the CEO needs to figure out how to properly set the stage. For Jong seok-Park, the answer was to replace the usual preamble with an entire philosophy.
“Technology without empathy can no longer be considered innovation,” the president and CEO of LG Electronics Mobile Communications Co. said Wednesday via an event which was livestreamed from New York.
“We do our very best to understand the needs of consumers and spend countless hours trying to understand from them human behaviors and habits as a manual for product development.”
The result, as showcased in the G2, includes power and volume controls placed on the back of the device, rather than the side. The display is supposedly more comfortable for the average hand. “Slimmer bezel, stunning display, long-lasting battery,” were the words cascading through the promo video as the device was unveiled. After almost an hour of this, you had to wonder: This is innovative? Where did all that thinking go?
The LG approach sounds almost exactly like what I heard months ago at the launch of Windows Phone 8, which Microsoft also described as putting consumers -- “You!” -- at the centre of everything. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but it’s worth noting that it’s the polar opposite of the philosophy at Apple, where incredibly smart designers feel it’s their place to tell you what you should want, and then generate excitement about it through the iPhone, rather than slavishly placating and conforming to observable habits.
Instead of giving air time to Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf so he could bore everyone with the benefits of the Snapdragon 800 processor in the G2 (“Location services are quicker and more accurate,”) LG might have spent more of the launch focusing on apps that would take advantage of the G2’s intuitive design. Rather than give LG marketing exec James Fishler the challenge of making people appreciate the difference between a 2.4-inch phone and a 2.7-inch one, the company could have provided him something that would establish the G2 as the new device of choice for smartphone snobs -- otherwise known as early adopters.
I haven’t touched this device yet, and this is not a product review. The G2 may end up being a great phone and a retail hit. The point here is that for investors evaluating the prospects of various tech stocks, you have to look at whether the company can tap into that elusive mojo that not only meets current needs but inspires new ones. You can be empathic as you innovate, but also instructive, even challenging. How many of us would have asked smartphone makers to replace hard keys with a touchscreen until Apple forced it upon an entire industry? Who would have thought we’d want to do so many things other than make or receive calls until the first app stores were introduced?
“The most frequently used features are the basic ones which are easy to use and add convenience to our daily lives,” seok-Park said. No argument there. But the features that make us want to buy a phone are more disruptive, forcing us to learn, experiment, adapt. Putting a button on the back of the G2 is smart, but true innovation is about giving consumers something more interesting to do on the front.