On Friday, Apple will launch the iPhone 15. This latest creation will set you back a cool £799, with the only notable new feature being the replacement of the Lightning charging port with a USB-C port, bringing it in line with other Apple products. Very little seems to justify the hefty price tag, and unless your current phone dies, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to buy an iPhone 15.

Innovation for the Sake of Innovation

Arguably, you can only innovate so much before you peak. Modern phones already perform a wide, previously unimaginable, array of functions and do almost everything we need them to. Take my almost prehistoric iPhone 12; I can text, call, video call, take photos and videos, check my emails, read the news, check my timetable, submit homework, track my gym progress, make a shopping list, watch videos and stream TV shows, stay up-to-date with the football scores, check my bank balance, buy and sell things, check the weather, and book driving lessons. I can even change the settings on my pedalboard for my guitar through an app. And that’s just with the relatively limited range of apps that I use regularly.

So, what more do we actually need from a phone? Will the iPhone 16 have a feature that 3D-prints a chocolate fudge cake every time you’re hungry? Realistically, all that really needs to be done at this point is to make phones run more efficiently.

A similar problem plagues cars. Most new cars in production today will have touchscreens. Buried in a sub-menu somewhere will be the climate control, as well as a host of other features that are — let’s be honest — largely pointless. Teslas, for example, have a sketchpad. A sketchpad! Why would you need that?

It’s not just that these features are slightly useless or inconvenient; they’re also dangerous — especially when it’s just you in the car. My driving test is in just over a month and the priority is going to be concentrating on the road ahead, rather than trying to tweak the heating or air conditioning. Even adjusting the speed of the windscreen wipers takes concentration, let alone getting to grips with the touchscreen to lower the heating. And yet, the next generation may almost exclusively be driving cars with touchscreens. If young drivers are susceptible to having accidents, imagine how many they’ll have when distracted by a touchscreen.

And what’s wrong with using buttons, anyway? I don’t feel held back by adjusting the volume of my Dire Straits cassette (yes, my car is that old), with a little wheel on the dashboard. If anything, it’s less effort than having to use a touchscreen and it certainly reduces the amount of time spent with your eyes off the road.

We Don’t Need Pointless New Tech

Car companies appear to be innovating for the sake of innovating, to give themselves a feature that they can present with jazz hands and edgy techno music. But we need to start asking ourselves if we really need all this expensive jazz.

Technology is reaching a point where we have almost everything we could conceivably need. Our phones may not be able to take the bins out or walk the dog in the pouring rain, but that doesn’t exactly make them obsolete. What we don’t need, is another technological breakthrough if it means being sold lots of shiny new features with questionable practical utility. Rather, we do need our existing tech to work as well as it can. This means getting more processing power, longer battery life and better-quality graphics, to name a few things.

We have become so accustomed to getting sparkly new toys that basic competence and improvement have become secondary, almost mundane features for companies to focus on. Promoting a new phone as being ‘the same, just better,’ sums up the problem and hardly screams high sales. In fact, the world would be better served if big tech companies poured more resources into environmental technology. If climate change is ever to become a common-sense issue instead of a political football, we need to make it practically accessible for ordinary people to switch to green alternatives. That only comes with lower costs, and big firms are better placed to achieve this thanks to their ability to benefit from economies of scale. They can spread the start-up costs of the necessary technology over a higher range of output, lowering unit costs in the process.

Having no new features doesn’t have to mean an absence of progress, especially if basic functions are improved. Let’s stop innovating for the sake of fancy new features that you’ll only convince yourself you need. Instead, let’s innovate where it really matters.

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