Last week, a brand new smartphone concept was released at a conference in Washington. But this was by no means a consumer conference. The show was the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) expo, a non-profit organisation specialising in unmanned systems and robotics.
FLIR, the company behind the ‘big reveal’ at AUVSI, demonstrated its brainwave for a special iPhone cover that could bring thermal heat imaging technology to consumers’ mobile phones. With the FLIR device strapped on to an iPhone, it will be possible to spot a person from 300 yards away in the dark, bringing fundamental military technology straight to your fingertips. Quite what you’d be doing with this tech, other than stalking someone in the middle of the night, is another matter.
And that’s where the debate sets in – can we class this as an ‘innovative smartphone concept’? Or just something that’s attempting to tie itself to a flourishing and prosperous market for the sake of it?
Technology can often be wrongfully stamped as being ‘innovative’, when in reality it’s just been created for the sake of a new invention. Some might say that if a product or gadget doesn’t really have a clear user requirement – such as the FLIR case or Samsung’s ‘flexible screen’ – it might struggle to stand up as an innovative and unique feature for consumers.
Despite this, it’s still common practice for industries outside of the mobile market to deliver innovative concepts that successfully utilise smartphone technology. The medical industry is a good example of this, understanding how portable devices such as iPhones can also host imaging technology – such as ultrasounds and X-rays – to save lives in third world countries.
Perhaps the medical industry can stand above the rest when it comes to consumers judging what’s truly innovative. It’s much easier for us to accept something as pioneering – even if it’s still in concept phase – when it has a meaningful purpose, such as preventing death. Smartphone cases that let us see in the dark are understandably going to need a little more convincing.
However, a key element of innovation is to freshen our minds and revitalise our experiences. And this isn’t easy when a product is still in development stage – an idea that is floating, static in the air and located in limbo. Can we truly tell this is going to happen before we’ve even used a phone with these features readily available?
‘State-of-the-art’ smartphone concepts, including 3D, imaging or even augmented reality, will be hitting our devices over the next few years. It may be that consumers can only determine a product’s true innovation after it has been placed directly into their hands.
photo credit: Johan Larsson