Apple has a reputation as a creative, innovative company. I asked a guy at work if he thought Apple was innovative.
What do you suppose he said? He said, “Yes.” Then I asked him to name a few innovative products from Apple. Guess what?
He said the iPod was an innovative product. Except the only thing innovative about the iPod is the click wheel, and that’s likely to die in future iPods.
How about the mouse? “Didn’t the Mac come with the first mouse?” he asked. For all intents and purposes, Apple popularized the mouse, but sure didn’t innovate anything of substance in the mouse.
It could be argued that Apple’s claim to innovation, despite a healthy war chest of patents, is simply being able to reconfigure what’s already there, and make it better.
Apple’s innovation is improvement more than creative strokes of brilliance.
Mac OS X is innovative, right? It’s secure, stable, easy to use. Except OS X is based on rather old technology, by computer standards, derived from a soup of Frankenunix ingredients cobbled together from an ancient recipe.
How about the flat panel iMac where everything in the computer is in the screen? That’s innovative, right? Until you look at the original Mac, then look at some all-in-one computer systems before that.
Frankly, the sunflower neck iMac of circa 2002 was more innovative in design than anything Mac that Apple has pushed out the door since.
Wait. I know. How about that magnetic cord in the MacBook Pro? OK, I’ll give you that one. I don’t know of another magnetic power cord device quite that cool.
There’s got to be more than that, right? There probably is. The reputation for being an innovative company has probably more to do with marketing than with technology.
Apple has a reputation for innovation. Microsoft has a reputation for stealing ideas from others. Apple is creative. Microsoft is a thief. At least, that’s the general Average Joe perception.
I can argue that Apple has become a highly disciplined repackager of ideas that didn’t quite work right elsewhere.
Coverflow album art in iTunes and the new iPhone? Uh uh. Not from Apple.
That discipline means knowing what to innovate upon, and what to avoid. Steve Jobs, in a Business Week article a few years ago, said as much.
“innovate. That’s what we do.” said Jobs to an audience in Paris a few years ago. Yet the average Mac user, and more so the switcher from Windows, will be hard pressed to name anything truly innovative from Apple the past few years.
Carleen Hawn’s premise from three years ago looks creaky and off the mark compared to Apple’s genuine financial successes of the past 36 months.
I’m not saying Apple doesn’t innovate. I am saying that most people can’t recount true innovation from Apple, but depend on pieces of reputation from days gone by.
Poor Carleen managed to stick her foot deep toward her tonsils with this classic one liner: “Technical innovation will earn you lots of adoring fans (think Apple). Business-model innovation will earn you lots of money (think Dell).”
Hmmm. Methinks she spoke (wrote) too soon, considering the changing landscape. Here’s another: “If your cool new thing doesn’t generate enough money to cover costs and make a profit, it isn’t innovation. It’s art.”
Dell has a reputation for innovating to drive down costs. Looks like they also drove down profits and quality, and their stock price. That’s innovation?
Apple wins awards regularly for creativity in design. Clever design isn’t necessarily innovation, but it gains awards, a fact not lost on Ms Hawn hatchet swinging: “If you covet awards for creativity, go to Hollywood. Managers get rewarded for results, which come from customers.”
If there’s anything we’ve seen from Apple’s management in the past few years, it’s discipline; perhaps more so than innovation, a reputation lingering from the past. We’re talking about Apple; the same folks who also have a reputation of leaping from “next great thing” to another.
Carleen remembered that: “Every innovation worth doing deserves your commitment. Don’t leap from one new thing to another. If your creation doesn’t appear important to you, it won’t be important to anyone else.”
Rather than pure innovation for innovation’s sake, we’ve seen Apple become a disciplined company able to be patient, deliver a better version of someone else’s idea and not be afraid to call it their own. That works for me.
On the commentary side, what’s on your list of Apple’s innovation or innovative products?