What is innovation? It’s a term that gets thrown around in tech circles to talk about new features on laptops and smartphones. The dictionary definition of innovation is the act of introducing a new thing or method. In short, a reinvention of what is already available. Another term that is also mentioned in tech circles is the word gimmick. The dictionary defines a gimmick as a novelty, something that is more deception than a legitimate idea. These definitions do not apply in the consumer technology bubble. People will call something either innovation or a gimmick based on their personal biases of a brand or product.
What this has resulted in is a skewed interpretation of what is innovative and what isn’t. If a company like Apple adds a camera lens with a new function many will call it innovative because they are Apple fans and are excited about the change. Those same people will see a company like HTC change the way a camera lens works and call it a gimmick since they are uncomfortable with the change and not committed to the brand. It is only when their preferred company releases that feature years later will they finally call it innovative. This is a system that is gamed to make unpopular or newer companies fail. It is in this atmosphere of chaos that LG is trying to reinvent itself.
After competing directly in a comparison with Apple and Samsung, LG has decided that is time to double down on different and for lack of a better term, weird phones to make itself stand out. The company has decided that making premium glass and metal slabs are not going to sway Apple and Samsung users to make the switch to LG. So LG has started experimenting with various dual-screen form factors with phones such as this year’s V60, Velvet, and now the newly announced LG Wing. The latest effort from LG to make innovative hardware has gone all-in on multiple displays, and it has been refreshing to see the manufacturer push the boundaries where others will not.
The Great Pivot
For years, LG has been catering to the spec hunting consumer. The latest SnapDragon, processor, a bunch of RAM, new screen technology, and expanded storage options. LG was in an arms race with Samsung to have the most well-specced Android phone to offer an alternative to Apple and its iPhone. This strategy propelled devices like the LG G2 and V20 to be well received as alternatives to the iPhone. Ever since the boot loop era of the G4 however, the luster of a powerful LG flagship has faded. While the company had pioneered the ultra-wide lens camera on a smartphone, every phone maker has adapted the technology at this point. A high-quality headphone jack with a dedicated amplifier has been considered another selling point of LG phones, but at this point, the mass market has moved away from caring about the headphone jack. So what is a company like LG to do?
The answer to that question seems to be to play their own game instead of playing catchup with Samsung and Apple. To stop playing from behind in a game that is designed for them to lose. Since LG does not have the brand equity of a company like Samsung, the pricing of their phones despite having the same components is often scrutinized. This is a problem that has resulted in consecutive quarters of profit losses and the erosion of market share in multiple markets. LG could no longer compete directly with the iPhone and Galaxy S phones, so it was time to create new form factor solutions to differentiate themselves and make LG appealing for a new reason.
This new direction for LG was defined around new form factors that solved problems that people experience. This started with the LG G8x and V50 with the dual-screen case accessory. The problem that LG was addressing with this solution was that multitasking has become more important in everyday life. And while multiwindow support in Android is progress, what if there was a second screen to display a full app the way that it was intended to be viewed.
The use cases are numerous. Watching a YouTube video while chatting with friends through a messenger of choice. Having Google Maps Navigation running while playing music. Playing a game while a Discord chat is on the other screen and so on. LG saw this future but also saw the advent of folding phones that would surely cost too much to be a mainstream device.
This is where the dual-screen accessory makes sense. By making the device compatible with a case instead of the time and development to introduce folding glass, the cost is kept down. This has been evidenced by this year’s LG V60 and Velvet that both come in well under $1,000 with the dual-screen accessory. And while this solution was not a perfect one due to the limitations of using a removable case and Android not being properly optimized for dual screens, this effort has shown that LG is serious about productivity and offered a different take on the term than what companies like Apple and Samsung have offered. It is in this context that the company has introduced its next evolution of form factor: the LG Wing.
One of my favorite Marvel movies was the first Iron Man. In this movie, Robert Downey Jr uses an LG phone with a swivel display mechanism. At the time (in 2008), this phone seemed so futuristic especially as it included Tony Stark’s Jarvis virtual assistant. This phone was a real phone called the LG VX9400 (of course without the inclusion of Jarvis). This phone was designed to watch Verizon’s live TV app called V Cast. This mobile TV phone concept was a fad but it seems that the idea was strong, and has led to LG’s newest phone in the LG Wing.
The Wing takes the idea of the original Iron Man phone and modernizes it for 2020. Two touch screens, the main display of 6.8 inches that swivels into landscape mode to reveal a secondary 3.9-inch second display. At first impression, one would wonder why on Earth would even want such a weird form factor. Yet listening to LG explain the use cases for this phone during their live stream, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by what this phone has to offer.
A regular phone when needed and a multitasking tool with a software gimbal mode when needed, this phone does not go out of its way to change the paradigm of a phone in the way that the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Microsoft Surface Duo does. This is a practical approach that solves problems for many people. A phone that solves the issues for someone like an Uber driver for instance. Where navigation and music controls or phone calls can exist side by side. A phone with camera features that will appeal to mobile content creators. The phone is so weird but yet useful for the right person.
This is what LG needs to be moving forward. Experimentation and practical approaches to problems that people have with their gadgets. The Wing does this very well and improves upon the usefulness of the Dual-Screen case ecosystem that LG has cultivated in recent years. The Wing shows a level of refinement to the weirdness of LG, an engineering achievement that deserves to be applauded.
This is how LG is going to differentiate itself, and by extension driving the market forward. Through LG’s experimentation with dual-screen experiences, the Microsoft Surface Duo makes sense and more companies will take this route as well. This is the spot that LG needs to be in, as a market innovator. For far too long the South Korean company has operated in the shadow of Samsung and tried to match them blow for blow. Yet time after time, Samsung’s marketing might and brand loyalty have won out.
With the introduction of the LG Wing and Explorer Project, LG is embracing weird. It has realized that LG fans enjoy these odd form factors and casual fans have wanted something different than what the other companies in the world are offering. LG is the company that can push the boundaries and makes us all imagine what a phone is and can be in terms of physical shape. In that context, the Wing is so much more than just another smartphone from LG. It is a reinvention of a fallen brand and a return to imaginative innovation from a company that does it better than others. Welcome back to weird LG, we have missed you.