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Do We Need Innovation?

What’s the big deal about innovation? I often hear people criticising technology companies, especially Apple, because they “don’t innovate any more”. So let’s have a look at this claim and see if it stands up to any scrutiny.

First, what is innovation? It’s about creating something new which changes the existing way things are done. The question naturally becomes: how big a change has to be made before it is significant enough to be called an innovation? The answer to that is clearly subjective.

But I think there is little doubt that Apple has innovated in the past at least. First there was the Apple II, then the Mac, then the iPod, and the iPhone, and finally the iPad. All of these devices made big changes to the way certain things were done.

That is 5 major innovations, and even that ignores services like Apple’s computer stores and the Apple music and app stores which were innovative in their own right. What other companies have done anything similar? Well Google gave us one big innovation: search, Amazon gave us one: the on-line book store, and Microsoft gave us… nothing?

So some of the big computer companies are innovative but clearly, looking at Microsoft as an example, innovation isn’t necessary for success. And so as not to just pick on Microsoft I would say that Samsung is another example. It produces good quality products at a good price but the company obviously can’t distinguish between a gimmick and a real innovation.

Innovation is important because (for example) without it I wouldn’t be typing this entry on an iPad. Up until the time that Apple showed everyone else how to do it tablets were practically unusable. The iPad wasn’t the first tablet but it was innovative because it was the first usable tablet which resulted in it making a big difference to the way people work (and play). And the same applies to the iPhone, iPod, Mac, and Apple II. None of these were the first of their kind but they were the first which were usable, and that’s what made the difference.

So if Apple stopped innovating, as some people think they will after the loss of Steve Jobs, what will they do instead? Samsung do well out of producing good products at a reasonable price. Microsoft do well out of making standard products which are familiar and “good enough”. And other companies (I can’t think of an example right now) do well out of producing extremely high quality products. Can Apple do any of these instead?

Well maybe, but probably not. Apple have never aimed at value because it has always been understood that you pay a premium for their stuff. To some extent they control standards but not in the same way as Microsoft do so that doesn’t seem like a good option. They do emphasise quality but even that is sometimes lacking. Apple Maps, Siri, cloud services, and several other products haven’t been as good as we might expect.

So it looks like innovation is important but we shouldn’t expect it to happen all the time. After all, if Apple innovated every year it would become rather mundane and then could it still really be called innovation? Plus there is the point that there are only a certain number of product categories that need the “Apple treatment” and maybe there just aren’t any more right now… Except maybe for wearable tech. I’m still waiting for that Apple watch!

  1. December 9, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Yes, we need innovation. It is the description of the tools that we use to better the world around us. When narrowed to only consumer technology, it can be arguable for a time but that too will pass. Without innovation we stop progress and that means no more new or better ways to solve new or old problems.

  2. OJB
    December 9, 2013 at 7:04 am

    I think we need both innovation in the sense of big changes and new stuff, and refinement of existing products. Both are important.

  3. December 9, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Agree! Innovation is not just about creating a new name for a model but creating something that will change the way we see and use things.

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