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A tech lover's call for innovation

Don Reisinger has a call out to all companies asking for more innovation in their products. But will they listen?

At this week's Intel Developer Forum, Steve Wozniak took the stage and discussed his career and his hope for the future of tech. All the while, it had me thinking about what I would like to see happen in this brave, new world of technology and how I hope that derivative products don't ruin this industry's appeal to the mainstream.

"We had dreams that computers would improve education and improve communication and help us achieve a lot of tasks. A lot of us in our group understood it," Woz told the crowd. "What we were doing was not (figuring out) how build a computer. It was how you get a computer that fits into the home. Price, looks--a lot of that stuff. It gave us more passion. We used the word 'revolution' all over the place.

"The rewards are in your head."

As a person that loves technology and has dedicated his life to the covering, opining about, and using it, I hope Wozniak's words inspire not just engineers, but companies that are looking to do special things. I hope that what Wozniak says so eloquently will resonate in the offices of Dell or the garages of companies we've never heard of before.

I hope that innovation, that simple premise that we see so little of today, will lead this industry forward and become the cornerstone of its development from now on.

When it comes time to evaluate major companies, only Apple and Nintendo seem to understand innovation. Both companies have strayed from the status quo and went their own way in hopes of doing something bigger and better. And both companies have succeeded.

But for most other companies in the tech industry, innovation is either too costly or too unknown for them to move off the beaten path. More often than not, these companies let competitors innovate and use that technology to either mimic or slightly improve that original product.

Set-top boxes are one of the worst culprits in the space. How many set-top boxes do we need before someone finally tells companies to stop? I understand streaming music and content throughout the home may be the future and people want to take content on their computer to their HDTVs, but can't we see something a bit different? Can't we see a company try to innovate off that idea and give us a product that deviates from the norm and doesn't copy every other device in the space?

I realize that sometimes components govern the success of a product and that it's not always easy to innovate. But I think we've moved beyond the realm of excuses and most companies are more than willing to justify the release of products through the "trends in the industry."

What a joke. All that means is other products have been successful, so other companies think they can be too. Newsflash: that rarely happens.

The reality is this: the tech industry is dominated by companies that are willing to do something a bit more innovative and a bit more thoughtful of consumer desire. How many people are really buying that extra DVD player at Wal-Mart? How many people really want that run-of-the-mill home theater system or that ugly desktop that doesn't break the mold in any way? The list goes on.

As someone who literally immerses himself in the world of technology each day, I have the opportunity to see and use products that companies are trying desperately to promote. And almost each day, I'm disappointed by what I see: the same basic premise for the given market with nary a consideration for what consumers are really looking for.

I understand business and I realize that companies have a vested interest in jumping in on the right markets and need to differentiate based on price or product. But I simply can't understand why more won't try to differentiate on product in a meaningful way.

Isn't it ironic that when an innovative device is released like the Slingbox or a Harmony Universal Remote, the tech press and tech lovers themselves all swoon? Not at all. We swoon because we see something in those devices that don't do what other products do. We swoon because we love this industry and we want to see it move forward and stop sitting in the mud hoping something will get it out. We swoon because those products are innovative and they do something most competitors don't: they fail to toe the industry line and don't put cash and revenue projections before risk and tangible reward.

So here's my call to every tech company and tech lover who has had enough of derivative products and boring ideas: start making products that are both innovative and unique, useful and affordable. Start making products that appeal to our desire for something new. And for goodness sake, start making products that buck the current trend. Only then will companies see real rewards and only then will they be able to maintain the kind of position Apple and Nintendo currently do.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter feed, and FriendFeed.