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What are tech gimmicks and why are they necessary?

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It’s an obscene word in the tech world. The dreaded “G” word; Gimick (cue the lightning and scary pipe organ music). Yes, Gimmick. If you’re an OEM who worked long and hard on a new feature that has the potential to usher in a paradigm shift, the LAST thing that you want to hear is that it’s a gimmick. We’re used to knocking these nutty and cheezy features, but are they so bad? No. In reality, gimmicks are actually necessary to the tech world.

It seems weird that those features that everyone automatically disables are necessary for the tech world to flourish. How could they be useful if no one uses them? Well, it’s not really about the feature itself; it’s about everything around it. Not only that, but it’s the philosophy around it. Let’s dive into how weird tech gimmicks are actually good for the tech world.

What makes a feature a gimmick?

There’s a fine line between a feature that adds value to the experience and needless tech fluff. Distinguishing between features and gimmicks comes down to answering a few key questions.

Firstly, you’ll want to ask yourself “Do I have to go out of my way to use this feature?“. Features are meant to make life easier, and many of them are meant to speed up productivity. If you’re using a feature, and you find that it does none of those things, then it’s a gimmick. Think about the hand gestures from the LG G8. Twisting your hand into a claw and hovering it over your phone just to skip tracks or control your phone just didn’t make this phone sell.

Next, ask yourself, “Does it provide functionality that I can easily get through other means?“. It’s fun if the feature uses a new and innovative technology first used by NASA. If there’s a path of least resistance, people are going to take it. So, if the feature offers functionality that you can do much easier by other means, it’s a gimmick. Think about the force touch features that we saw with the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S8. Sure, you can press your finger down on the screen, but you can do the same thing just by holding your finger down for a second.

Another question to ask is “Is this feature useful to a wide range of use cases?“. Ideally, you’ll use certain features on a regular basis. Otherwise, why did the company spend the money on R&D, installing the hardware, and adding the drivers for it? So, if there’s a feature that you can only use for a very specific and rare use case, it’s a gimmick. A good example is the temperature sensor on the Pixel 8 Pro. It’s neat, but how many times do you need to know the temperature of an item that you have to hold the phone two inches from?

Also ask yourself, “Is the feature just cool-looking without adding real functionality?“. This one goes out to all of the gaming phones with little screens on the back. Think about the ASUS ROG phones. Sure, they looked cool, but how many times are you just going to stare at the back of your phone? The lights on the back of the Nothing Phones also fall under this category.

Gimmicks are unavoidable sometimes

So, we’ve established that tech gimmicks are not necessary most of the time. There are those diehard fans who’ll go out of their way to use a feature no matter what, but the mass majority of the tech community will disable these features as soon as they can. It’s hard to imagine that they’ll have any benefit for individual users’ experiences, let alone tech as a whole. So, why do companies inundate their devices with them?!

Well, you have to think about one of the biggest forces in the tech industry- actually, it’s one of the biggest forces in any industry. We’re talking about Consumer Demand; what the people want. No one can tell the future, so it’s impossible to know exactly how the population will respond to a particular feature. There are so many devices and features launched that had some massive appeal… on paper.

Remember the NGAGE?

One good example is the Nokia NGAGE. Combining a portable gaming console with a cell phone during the cellphone and Game Boy boom of the early 2000s sounded like gold, and it was… on paper. Unfortunately, the tech industry just wasn’t ready for that kind of portable gaming. It wasn’t until years later that consumers saw the utility of gaming on their phones.

A feature could sound like the thing to turn the tech world on its ear; however, if the people don’t like it, then it’s bound to be called a gimmick. And, nailing down what the people will want is a massive undertaking. The things that people respond to and don’t respond to can take the industry by surprise. We didn’t expect generative AI to have such a massive impact on the industry, and it’s caused trillion-dollar companies like Google and Microsoft to pivot their businesses.

So, if a company launches a gimmicky feature, there’s usually some actual value to it. If it’s panned by the tech community as a whole, it’s probably not the time for it to exist. Some features and devices are considered gimmicks before they’re popularized. Smartwatches were a gimmick until Apple popularized the genre. Also, curved displays were a gimmick until Samsung made them look appealing on the Galaxy S6.

Why tech gimmicks are necessary

So, you don’t use them; you just flip the toggle to disable them in the settings and forget that they exist. How in the world could they be beneficial to technology going forward if no one uses them? Well, what’s one of the main things that you notice about gimmicks? They’re features that showcase a new technology or implement a technology into a consumer device for the first time. They’re usually first-of-their-kind features that push the boundaries of technology in some fashion.

So, while not many people use them, the companies have still actively pushed technology forward. This technological leap helps influence other types of technology and other companies. The Galaxy Note 4 Edge brought the curved display and, sure, the curved display is a pretty played-out gimmick by now, but you can bet that the development of that technology influenced the development of the foldable display.

So, every time a phone comes out with some tech that uses lasers, some new sensor, or military-grade technology, the R&D that the company put into making it work benefitted tech as a whole. It might lay the groundwork for better innovations in the future.

Hey, every experiment needs a guineapig

Playing on an NGAGE back in 2003 wasn’t quite a fun experience, and now we know- NOW we know. Back in the day, there was no way of telling if the public was going to like using it. It’s sad to say, but Nokia just had to take the leap of faith and fall face-first onto the pavement to find out.

However, this is a good thing in a twisted way. Consumers and the industry were able to gain more knowledge about how people like to use mobile devices. With this knowledge, other companies were able to avoid Nokia’s implementation and seek other ways of merging game consoles and cell phones. That helped lay the groundwork for modern mobile gaming.

Another good example of this would be the millions of dollars that LG and Motorola burnt on their ill-fated modular phone efforts. Back in the mid-2010s, modularity was the main buzzword, and it seemed promising. However, people just didn’t like the technology, and it fell by the wayside. Well, now we know. Would LG and Motorola like to have known before building phones around the technology? You bet! But, they had to be the guineapigs.

After that, we all learned more about what the common user does and doesn’t want from their smartphone experience. With that knowledge, those two companies and more were able to refine their strategies and develop other technologies.

Trial by fire

Though it may not seem like it, gimmicks offer plenty of good to the tech industry. They involve radical and crazy new tech that pushes boundaries and shows us more about the common consumer. Consumer demand is the lifeblood of any business. Knowing more about what people want helps companies improve the products powering the world. Companies pushing features that people don’t use helps other companies provide future features that people do use.

So, if a company releases a new sensor that can detect if you’re a sushi lover, don’t knock it. There’s technology going on behind the scenes that might power your next favorite feature.

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