What it is: A new idea, method, or device.
When describing Apple, many critics dismiss the company as not innovative, despite Apple’s long list of products that have literally changed the world from the early Apple II computer to the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and now the Apple Watch. Yet what many critics miss is that they claim Apple doesn’t innovate, but they never define what innovation really is.
According to the dictionary, innovation is a new way or doing something. That right there insures that unthinking critics will immediately dismiss anything new simply because they lack the imagination to see its potential impact. When something new appears in the world, there will always be critics who claim the old way is better whether it’s claiming Morse Code and telegraph lines were superior to telephones or horse and buggies were superior to automobiles. Perhaps the surest way to identify innovation is to notice how much criticism a product attracts. The more vocal the criticism, the more innovative that product will likely be.
Back in 2010, low-cost, underpowered netbooks were all the rage despite running an antiquated operating system (Windows XP back when the rest of the PC world was using Windows 7), an underpowered processor (typically a slow and weak Atom processor), and a cramped keyboard and screen. What killed the netbook? According to Slate, it was Apple.
Netbooks were nothing but a series of compromises. Cheap, small, and hard to use, the only redeeming value of a netbook was its price. of course that low price meant that profits for netbooks were also minuscule, but that didn’t stop people from claiming netbooks were the future of computing technology.
Then Apple introduced the iPad. Within a few years, every major manufacturer had stopped selling netbooks and the netbook market disappeared completely.
That’s because the iPad was innovative. Not only did it offer something new as a computing device, but it also proved superior to netbooks in so many ways. An iPad was more flexible, easier to carry, and more intuitive to use than a netbook. So innovation can be defined as something different that wipes out an existing product.
Look at how the telephone killed the telegram business or how streaming video killed the DVD rental business. It’s easy to create something new. It’s only innovative what that something new completely wipes out something people have been using for years.
The car wiped out the horse and buggy. The pocket calculator wiped out the slide ruler. Indoor plumbing wiped out the out house. When a product destroys the previous way of life, that’s a clear sign that innovation exists.
The iPod killed the Walkman. The iPhone killed Blackberry and practically every other mobile phone manufacturer. The iPad killed the netbook. Now the Apple Watch will help kill ordinary watches.
The next time a company introduces a product, look for criticism from people desperate to cling to the past, and look for an existing product that the new product will wipe out. When you can identify vocal criticism and the extinction of an existing product, that’s how you can recognize innovation right in front of your eyes.