Phablet, Schmablet: Let's Refocus on Real Innovation

This week Samsung delivered a flash-mob style performance in Times Square ahead of its Galaxy S4 device unveiling tonight at Radio City Music Hall. Literally, turning the U.S. wireless communication competition into a circus. In another limited-edition special, Apple's VP of Marketing, Paul Schiller, defended Apple's products and pointed out major flaws in Samsung's products and tactics to the Wall Street Journal. Samsung is delivering its new product with circus-like fanfare. In a quick role-reversal, we have Apple on the defense, and Samsung on the front-line (but not in front of true innovation).

The Paradigm Shift in Mobile Technology

Samsung's Galaxy S4 "phablet" will have a screen that is predicted to be 0.2 inches larger than its predecessor. The inclusion of more innovative features for the S4 - flexible screen technology, eye-tracking software, an 8-core processor- are long shots at best.

Samsung is smartly capitalizing on Apple's recent PR missteps, tanking stock price, and stagnant pile of cash. There is nothing extraordinarily innovative about Samsung's new device, aside from the extravagant promotion by dancers donning top hats and the number "4" on their tuxedoed-clad backs. In terms of the actual product and the actual technology, the S4's incremental improvements in technology will not make substantial impact on user experience or consumer value.

Where is the innovation?

While the S4 pitch rings as "better than the iPhone," I credit Samsung for smartly spending their marketing dollars to build awareness now, while Apple goes silent. Samsung's future pipeline of products, will indeed offer valuable innovation.

For years, Samsung has been investing alongside Intel to create the Tizen operating system: an open-source software platform that will create a robust and adaptable development environment, providing a consistent user experience across devices. The Linux kernel and WebKit-based system integrates harmoniously with gadgets other than our phones, phablets and tablets - including our cars, appliances, smart TVs.

Which company has an integrated system of devices beyond the media realm? One who could integrate an open-source, flexible platform into its suite of products? Samsung. Now we are talking innovation.

Apple's Reality Check

Innovation today means being open, transparent, integrated and creative. Apple needs to make a radical shift to maintain leadership and brand equity.

Indisputably, Apple is known for innovation. The company's mission is to bring "the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software, and Internet offerings."

The U.S. wireless market is nearly saturated; competition is fierce and only getting stronger. The "new, better, and faster features," have become meaningless buzzwords. Innovation itself is a buzzword, but true innovation is much more than just bells and whistles.

Apple needs to rethink innovation as Steve Jobs would have, and renew its commitment to its mission bringing the best experience to the global market. Apple currently has an untapped opportunity: improving global health, education, and economies. There are rumors that Apple is creating a lower cost iPhone later this year. This move would be a step in the right direction, as Apple's high price point is prohibitively expensive for the developing world. Beyond access to the device, the larger issue is operating system capability. This presents Apple with a large market opportunity, but the company would have to consider a major strategic shift: one to open-source software.

Modern Innovation: Creation of Shared Value

Apple's closed-operating system has allowed Apple ultimate price and quality control. Nevertheless, regulation often stunts innovation. As a case study, let's look at mobile health. Mobile phones promise to improve healthcare, acting as handheld portable healthcare devices, both in self-managed care, remote assistance, and more integrated solutions.

My own healthcare technology venture aims to deliver higher quality treatment at a more affordable price point - to help more consumers access mental health treatment. Open source technology was and continues to be a crucial component of our product development.

mHealth technology has facilitated new ways to diagnose malaria, tuberculosis, and hookworm, detect allergens and pathogens. In the future, our smart phones will have the ability to detect cancer, HIV, and other serious conditions based on a droplet of blood or saliva placed on our screens. These are meaningful technological developments.

Where can Apple live its mission of innovation?

The difficulty of global shared value creation lies in cost and technology delivery. Apple needs to move beyond its comfort zone and innovate beyond the familiar. If Apple indeed creates a lower-cost smartphone, and most importantly, employs an open-source operating system, I believe the company will reinvent itself, regain its position as a world-class market leader, and truly live its mission of global service and excellence.