First of all, the basic definition of innovate simply means to make changes or introduce new methods or features or products. That said, virtually all of Apple’s competitors innovate in the marketplace. What Apple does best is what I call disruptive innovation, the kind which leads industry segments, which Apple needs to survive.
Innovate, Stagnate, Differentiate
Apple has a long history of disruptive innovation, starting with the original Apple I, and a heritage which extends to most of the company’s main products today.
Go down the list. Apple I, Mac, Apple Stores, iPod, iTunes Music Store, iPhone, iPad– all products which, for better or worse, disrupted entire technology industry segments.
Here’s a good example. When the iPhone was introduced who would have though that Motorola, Nokia, BlackBerry, and Microsoft were in any danger in the marketplace. Yet not one of those companies has anything other than negligible presence in today’s mobile industry.
Disruptive innovation is what Apple does. Other companies follow with iterative innovation; new features which, in some way, differentiate their products from Apple’s products.
Apple is the company that leads the market segment, while others simply follow along, differentiating where possible. As it turns out, Apple is pretty good at iterative innovation, but does not always follow what competitors do, or, when it does so, does so with a twist, a visible and sometimes obvious difference.
How is the Mac differentiated from traditional Windows-based PCs? Aluminum vs. plastic. OS X vs. Windows. High end Intel CPUs vs low end CPUs. Sufficient RAM and flash storage to be usable.
How is today’s iPhone line differentiated from traditional Android-based smartphones? Aluminum case vs. plastic. iOS vs. Android. Faster CPUs and GPUs. Higher quality mobile applications. A secure and curated ecosystem.
All manufacturers want to differentiate their products from the industry leaders through features and functions, pricing, packaging, distribution, and more. Only Apple seems to be both inclined and required to identify and disrupt a product segment.
One should not be surprised that many Windows PCs and Chromebooks look much like a MacBook Air, a category of thin and light notebooks defined by Apple. Look at what constituted a smartphone before the iPhone came on the scene. Apple’s iPad was a substantial departure from the traditional Windows tablet.
It is not just a matter of typical innovation; the tacking on of more functionality in some sore of tit-for-tat feature war with competitors. Apple is required— both by DNA and heritage– to disrupt entire markets.
Apple Pay is a perfect example where the complexity of the purchase and data transfer process is mostly hidden from the user who merely needs to point the iPhone at the payment terminal, and press Touch ID to complete a transaction. Does anyone doubt that five years from now that method– by Apple Pay and others– will be the de facto credit card purchase method?
Apple leads by innovating– not necessarily specific features or functions– by an entire industry segment, defining how the product or process should become. The market– and Apple’s competitors– merely follow with iterative innovations designed more to differentiate than improve the process as defined by Apple.
innovate |ˈinəˌvāt| verb [ no obj. ]
make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products: the company’s failure to diversify and innovate competitively.
• [ with obj. ] introduce (something new, especially a product): innovating new products, developing existing ones.