One of the most controversial terms in the tech community is the notion of “gimmicks”. The latter usually refers to purportedly new features that are not very likely to make a major difference in how users interact with a particular device. Nonetheless, they often end up being implemented and branded as “innovation”. There seems to be a general consensus that Samsung in particular has a long and sordid history of gimmicks. From using head tracking to scroll down and up, to putting projectors in its smartphones, the Korean tech giant surely loves implementing questionable features into its devices.
Some have even argued that the whole premise of foldables is one big gimmick on Samsung’s part. The problem is that the very word “gimmick” is often used rather loosely because of how inherently loaded it is. But I will get to that later.
At any rate, Samsung’s gimmicky experimentation is then subsequently juxtaposed to Apple’s “devotion” to perfectionism. If Samsung creates, Apple refines – innovation versus execution. And this is precisely what I would like to tackle.
Is Apple really all about execution? The short answer is “no”. Still, we are all aware of Samsung’s failed attempts at innovation. It is only fair to take a look at the other side of the market.
Apple vs Samsung: Innovation vs Execution
The main reason why the aforementioned sentiment is so prevalent is because Apple truly does have a tendency to “reinvent” features that have previously been present on many other devices for a long time – case in point, the Always On Display.
The Cupertino company is often given a pass, for one simple reason. Namely, that Apple’s take on the well-established feature is almost invariably highly refined. Of course, there are some exceptions (e.g. the Always On Display will soon be altered to be virtually identical to the one found on Android), but the general pattern is there.
What is much less established, however, is when Apple copies some of the less-useful features implemented by its competitors. For example, one of the main selling points of the new iPad Pro (2022) is its Hover Detection functionality. Essentially, the device is capable of interacting with the Apple Pencil, even if the latter is not in direct contact with the screen.
This is eerily similar to Samsung’s AirView feature, which allowed users to preview content without actually tapping the screen. The latter function was largely dubbed a gimmick and was subsequently removed.
It should be noted that the main problem is not that Apple implemented a clone of a rather gimmicky Samsung feature. The issue is that the Cupertino company went to great lengths in the press release to brand the feature as something highly innovative and useful. Which brings me to the next point.
What exactly is a gimmick anyway?
Narrowing the scope of what constitutes a “gimmick” is inherently problematic for two main reasons. Firstly, the usability of a feature largely comes down to how (and if) users end up utilizing it. This is simply impossible to anticipate before the launch of a device.
In a sense, manufacturers don’t really know if a feature will end up being a gimmick until after the device has made its way to consumers. Because a certain degree of experimentation is necessary in order to innovate, one cannot always avoid the pitfall of creating a “gimmick” in the process.
I am not referring to such instances of gimmicky features as they are not the worst offenders of their kind. The gimmicks I want to single out are those features that are not only questionably useful, but also marketed as innovative, purely for the sake of making the latter a selling point.
In a nutshell, because the iPad Pro (2022) is nearly identical to its predecessor, with the exception of minor improvements in performance (courtesy of the M2 chip), Apple is forcibly creating a selling point in order to make the new device stand out in a more meaningful way. This is the type of gimmick that many do not expect from Apple.
This is not to say that Apple has not dabbled with its fair share of gimmicks before. Perhaps it does not do so as extensively as Samsung, but, for objectivity’s sake, I would like to draw some attention to a couple of instances, in which Apple was guilty of implementing gimmicky features.
My personal favorite is 3D Touch. The latter was a feature on the iPhone that allowed it to recognize and distinguish between levels of force. Essentially, it gave users a third way of utilizing the touchscreen interface in addition to usual tap and long press. On paper, 3D Touch looked promising.
In practice, however, the use cases were rather limited. Under most circumstances, 3D Touch was just a glorified long press, with some added hassle. Apple itself recognised the limitations of the feature and subsequently removed it from the iPhone.
Another prime example is the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. In an attempt to give the MacBook some sort of touchscreen input (without threatening the iPad lineup), Apple added a long touchscreen stripe on its more high-end MacBooks. Because of lackluster third-party optimization, the feature never really took off and was eventually removed from Apple’s flagship MacBooks (14” and 16”).
I personally believe that the Dynamic Island is also another example of subpar design on Apple’s part. I have written a full article on the matter, if you are interested in reading more about this.
At any rate, it is still too early to say whether the Dynamic Island will be a success or a failure. In my view, it remains a transient feature that simply seeks to sell the new design of the iPhone 14 Pro (hence, the extensive marketing it has received)
It should not be understood that I am in some way insinuating that Apple is bad at innovation. After all, we are talking about the company that paved the way for modern smartphones as we know them with the first iPhone and, by extension, revolutionized the way we use technology as a whole.
To name a more recent achievement, it is the same company that put a dedicated desktop-class processor in a tablet (i.e. the iPad Air 2022) that weighs almost 1 pound. There are countless examples of Apple’s ability to create ground-breaking products. You do not become the most valuable company in the world without a good reason.
What should be asserted, however, is that even Apple sometimes introduces gimmicky features, purely because of the lack of any meaningful innovation. Why did Apple not give the iPad Pro an OLED display? Why did it not give the 11-inch variant a Mini-Led one?
This would have made the iPad Pro 2022 a much more viable upgrade. When Apple could not make the successor truly better, it resorted to gimmicks and marketed them accordingly. Thus, the myth that Samsung is the only company that makes use of gimmicks should be dispelled.
Gimmicks are a problem that plagues the entire technology industry, and is, at least in part, a reaction to consumers’ obsession with the latest and greatest. As such, gimmicks are here to stay, because, unfortunately, they work – for Apple and for Samsung, and for every other tech manufacturer as well.