The iClone Wars – LG’s last hope

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Recently, I had the opportunity to see what LG were up to in the mobile phone arena. It was a small event — just a survey — where LG ran slides and concepts by a group of 12 hungry techies and asked for feedback which took the form of a ~35-page evaluation booklet. The electronics giant is planning to release a hi-tech touch-screen phone which ostensibly could come to market in 1-2 years. As the number 3 mobile phone manufacturer in the world, LG have made more cheap plastic phones than Ford made cheap, black, metal cars. But, unlike Ford, whose innovation was the industrious factory line which brought the automobile to the masses, LG already have mastered the art of cheap and tasteless. Their next phone will seek to tackle a new concern: usability and viability in the world marketplace.

The presentation marched through about 17 concepts which ranged from multi touch input to selective screen lighting and a unique protective case which rendered tactile buttons, images, and other GUI elements on a protective film. LG are no stranger to hardware innovation.

But, after 2 hours, infinite questions, and some a few face palms, I was convinced that the mobile giant are aimlessly attaching a market which they don’t understand. Here’s why:

LG are behind the curve. Their number 3 position is founded on cheap, useless phones which accompany cheap contracts. Nevertheless, they reckon that innovative engineering can place them in a strong place in the market. According to them, users want innovative touch input, security, and better battery life. In the ~35 demo slides, the LG rep compared the company’s brainstormed ideas to the iPhone, and in about 10% of the cases, bettered it by offering unique security and/or phone interaction methods. But largely, the company are simply trying to reinvent the wheel; no amount of hardware innovation can aid the giant’s touch phone in direct comparison to other manufacturers.

Secondly, LG are thinking of the future. In November, the Korean market will be open to foreign smart phones, all of which are better than any domestic rival. Samsung and LG, among large mobile manufacturers have sat on their collective duffs more than any of their rivals, largely because of domestic monopoly and reliance on market dominance, rather than their customers, to drive demand of their products. Their new touch phone will primarily be marketed toward Europe and North America, a market which has been bolstered by strong competition. LG will pull any sellable feature from RIM, Apple, and other manufacturers to market a phone, which above all, is a freakish concoction of hardware and software features.

Thirdly, at the end of the survey, all people were asked to compare which GUI interaction method they thought best. To make a short story long, the majority preferred the iPhone method to any of LG’s brainstormed ideas. LG demonstrated 6 or 7 input methods, all of which were based on different navigation methods, most of which were based on some hodgepodge of multi touch. The firm have put heads together to come up with something, anything which will be able to compete. However, they have no plan for congruent interaction. Imagine a nice new plastic LG phone – the gPhone – which has a hi-tech raised-texture screen to help the user interact like they would on a regular keypad-based smart phone: great. But, all gestures and interactions are based on different input methods. Two-finger scrolling for web pages, jog dial contact selection, multi-touch navigation of maps; not to mention many other incongruent designs, LG’s designs for user interaction make no sense; there isn’t a single, binding user interaction design.

If LG, and other ‘me too’ manufacturers continue to grasp at straws, brainstorming devices which purport success by tacking features onto features, their products will be forgotten. Korean phone mobile manufacturers must not apply domestic car design to their phones: the more they copy and paste rather than create, their cloned products, services, and customers, will die. It isn’t being number 3, but LG have their cloned fingers on the triggers, gunning for anything and everything that seems a good idea.

That said, I’m still in for the LG Watch Phone.

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