Home > Project Rethink > Piece-of-Junk Innovation

Piece-of-Junk Innovation

December 3rd, 2009

The trick with innovation is coming up with something “new”. We have a tendency to iterate what we know; iteration is not innovation.

There are a few companies who do this very well; Apple and Google typically come to mind. But I think there is an overlooked simplicity to the success of new products from these companies. Some people call it the “wow factor”, but it is a little more than that. These companies have a reputation of creating NEW categories of business.

When asked why, in these economic times, Apple has continued to focus on the “premium” computer market instead of creating the infamous netbook, they responded:

For us it’s about doing great products. When I’m looking at what’s sold in the Netbook market, I see cramped keyboards, junky hardware, very small screen, bad software. Not a consumer experience that we would put the Mac brand on. As it exists today, we’re not interested in nor would it be something customers would be interested in the long term. We are looking at the space. For those who want a small computer that does browsing/email, they might want an iPhone or iPod Touch. If we find a way to deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, we’ll do that. We have some interesting ideas.

So what does that mean?

Apple could easily iterate their product models to fit the market of netbooks. They could simply strip down their low-end laptops to make them cheaper and competitive in this market while still maintaining their profit margins. But they refuse to, as Steve Jobs said in a special appearance on an earnings report call back in October:

“We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”

When Apple does enter the netbook market, you can bet they will redefine it. Instead of rushing into the market, Apple is spending a great deal of time and money researching a way to do the market right; figuring out how to avoid a piece of junk.

If history is any indication (iPod, iTunes, iPhone, App Store, etc) this investment of time and money in the beginning will greatly pay off the in the long run.

The Take-Away

There is a simple litmus-test you can use on new products and processes. I don’t mean to oversimplify the matter, but if you, your engineers, your competitors, or your customers utter these phrases during your product release chances are you are not “iterating” an old process:

  1. How did they do that?
  2. Why didn’t I think of that?

As innovators, we are in the business of “shock-and-awe”. We must never take for granted the consumer experience or return customers. Every product should be as amazing and inspiring as its predecessor.


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