Features and gimmicks - early 2014
|Two cameras. Feature or gimmick? Image: Android Central|
Last year, I asked what's the difference between a feature, and a gimmick. In the end, I differentiated between the two by saying that a feature is practically useful, while a gimmick is not. I shared my thoughts on some of the current features offered by various flagships at the time, including BoomSound, Touchless Control, and wireless charging. As Android hardware is plateauing on the specs sheet, OEMs are forced to try to innovate in other ways, be them software additions to Android like Knock Code, or unique hardware additions on their phones like Duo Camera. I have some thoughts on some current "features" of smartphones in the market, and not all of them are useful if you ask me.
Let's start with what is probably the most unique hardware modification to a smartphone since the rear-mounted buttons on the LG G2. HTC's Duo Camera baffled many people when the leaks started hitting the web. When HTC finally confirmed what it was, the reaction of the tech crowd was a little lukewarm. It brought with it some cool photo editing capabilities, with the highlight being the UFocus capability which allows focus to be editing after the photo is taken. The problem is, Nokia's Refocus app, Google's brand new Google Camera with Lens Blur, Sony's Background Defocus app and even Samsung's Selective Focus all achieve the same effect, without the need for a dedicated depth sensor. So, why HTC?
Knock Code and Motion Launch
Last year I called LG's Knock On a genuine feature, as I think being able to turn the screen on easily by double tapping the screen can be largely convenient for simple tasks like checking the time. Knock Code is an extension of that feature, allowing users to not only turn the screen on by tapping it, but to also unlock the phone by tapping the screen in a particular manner, i.e., a code. It works well, can be scaled to larger or smaller sizes according to the user, and is quite cool too. Motion Launch is another similar feature, allowing users to double tap the screen to wake the device, but also allows swipe gestures to quickly perform certain actions, and to also unlock the device. I like it. With such large screens, they should definitely be utilised even when the they are off.
When Apple introduced the iPhone 5s with a fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button, the majority of the internet people called it a gimmick. So now that Samsung has done it with the Galaxy S5, was the response similar? You bet. Not only were people criticising Samsung for seemingly copying Apple once again, they did a worst job at it too. While TouchID works just like that, by touch, Samsung's implementation requires a swipe, similar to the Atrix and One Maxx, which were also not well received by reviewers. The hassle of having to swipe your finger exactly in a particular manner just negates any convenience that was supposed to come from the scanner. Even the tutorial suggests using two hands, one to hold the device and the other to provide the finger. Two handed unlocks is not convenient. When it works, it works well. But as many reviewers have already demonstrated, it's just not as good as TouchID.
Heart rate sensor
I'll just come out and say it. This is a straight up gimmick. Why? Because most people don't need to consistently monitor their heart rate. And people who need to medically will have a dedicated heart rate sensor. Proper medical equipment. People who normally go on runs and work out have always been able measure their heart rate with apps like Runtastic Heart Rate. So why did Samsung need to include a dedicated heart rate sensor? What'll be next? The S-Pen in the Note 4 can take your body temperature?
Verdict: Biggest gimmick ever
BoomSound and S-Force Front Surround
Copying someone else's features is generally frowned upon by techies (like the fingerprint sensor I just talked about). But sometimes, a company does something so great that we actually want other OEMs to do it too. As is the case with BoomSound. Everybody loved BoomSound on the original One. So much so we were left wondering why nobody else was doing it. Apparently, Sony also realised how much everyone loved BoomSound, that they included their own version on the Xperia Z2 called S-Force Front Surround (a bit lengthy but who cares). Like I said in my post from last year, front facing speakers (stereo too) just make so much sense that they make every other phone look silly for having a small speaker cut out on the back.
Hotword detection - Google Now Launcher
Touchless Control on the Moto X is still one of the greatest innovations in the smartphone market. Taking Google Now and extending its usefulness to such an extent is something no other OEM has done. Before the Nexus 5 launched, people were wondering if we would get the same sort of functionality on the Nexus 5 as the Moto X. We did, sort of. Using the Google Now Launcher, users can activate voice commands directly from the home screen. Though not as useful as being able to do so when the phone is in standby, it's still one swipe/tap less to activate voice search on your phone.
It'll be interesting to see what the rest of 2014 has to offer. We are still waiting on the G3, and we know LG is not shy about thinking outside the box. We also have the Moto X successor, and Motorola is even more willing to think outside the box. Then we have the "Nexus 6", which will probably introduce some new Android functionality which we can all expect to be awesome as always. Hopefully we'll see many more features than gimmicks in the second half of the year.