Say That Again

by Mike Masnick




The Economist On Apple Innovations: Not Inventive, Just Innovative

from the how-you-put-it-all-together dept

We've suggested in the past that Apple's iPhone perfect demonstrates the difference between invention and innovation (i.e., there's nothing really "new" in the iPhone, but what's impressive is how Apple packaged all of it in a way that consumers find appealing). The Economist has picked up on this, apparently, with a cover story on how Apple innovates, where it notes that Apple isn't particularly inventive, but knows how to package up a bunch of outside inventions and make them useful. This is important, since so many discussions around innovation tend to confuse innovation and invention, and it can greatly distort policy debates when you think that the two are the same (or even that one is a proxy for the other). With that in mind, it's nice to see the Economist highlight the difference at Apple.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2007 @ 9:37am

    Apple's talent is taking existing technology, putting it in a nice form factor, and then marketing the hell out of it to morons that are willing to overpay to keep up with the hipster Jones'.

    Apple does not invent or innovate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Adam, 12 Jun 2007 @ 11:05am

      Re:

      Really? So you're saying that iPod was not innovative, or the iMac, or the Mini? And you're forgetting one big thing about Apple: ease of use and reliability. People love iTunes and iPod because it works and it's easy. I owned several MP3 players before iPod, and their software sucked - don't even mention the MusicMatch Crapbox or WMP bloatware. No other company has the talent to produce products that are appealing and easy to use as Apple's.

      Do you really think that only idiots buy Apple products? Most people are know who have iPods are intelligent, educated people. I can say the same about people who buy Microsoft or Creative products.

      Adam

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      SailorRipley, 12 Jun 2007 @ 12:10pm

      Re:

      disclaimer: I'm not an Apple fan boy, nor do I care about keeping up with hipster Jones', however I am allergic to bullshit...

      ...morons...overpay...

      I have owned 2 iPods: the 60GB (years back) and the 80GB. Both times, when looking around, reading reviews, comparing prices and capacities, the iPod in question was the best choice...in fact, both iPods were by far the best storage-capacity/price deal around.

      It sure sounds like they marketed the hell out of lil ol moron me

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2007 @ 9:38am

    This is a common trait among large companies, including both Apple and Microsoft. Instead of coming up with new products, they just wait for smaller startup companies to invent them and then buy them out. I think both Microsoft and Apple are quite innovative in their own right, but I wonder how much actual 'inventing' either of them has done. Apple didn't invent the PC, they just did it 'right.' They didn't invent the MP3 player, they just did it 'right.' And so on.

    I know this is going to insult the Apple fans, but Apple isn't as bleeding-edge as you might think. They just seem to have impeccable timing when it comes to pushing new (but existing) technologies into the public spotlight. True bleeding-edge companies blaze the trail for the rest of us by inventing exciting new technologies that nobody has ever thought of before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      SailorRipley, 12 Jun 2007 @ 12:14pm

      Re:

      I fully agree that both Apple and Microsoft invent little. (I do think that Apple is more innovative than Microsoft)

      But I mainly want to make the remark that to the best of my knowledge, the VCR, CD and DVD were invented by Philips/Sony and not by smaller startup companies they just bought out.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2007 @ 9:50am

    "but what's impressive is how Apple packaged all of it in a way that consumers find appealing"

    ...and what exactly is it that people find appealing about the iPhone?

    This particular "innovation" sounds more like "hype" and not much more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Belphegore, 12 Jun 2007 @ 10:08am

    IPhone

    Not that marketing is not important, but this is an example of marketing/hype (as other comments have it) overshadowing technology.
    Indeed as commented before this is not just an Apple sin, it's rather all over American business.
    Not too long ago Intel's CEO seat changed hands, or butts; the new CEO or butt, made it a point in saying that he is going to change the direction of the company from a scientific/research institution to a marketing one!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BillDivX, 12 Jun 2007 @ 10:14am

    Defining discussion for patent?

    It seems like this is the chink in the patent armor. We've shifted to a system which is so lax that it allows INNOVATION to receive a patent. Maybe what we want to do is say that only INVENTION, not innovation, is worthy of a patent. Obviously there are some sticking points in drawing that line clearly in a legal sense, but it does bring up the point, that the most common of the frivolous patent seems to be patenting the "idea" of shoving together two random things. I.e., the camera phone. Or one-click (which is basically a combination of an online store and the pre-existing quick-checkout concept).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sam, 12 Jun 2007 @ 10:45am

    Dissent...

    As the terms are used here, invention is more or less useless and innovation is priceless. The technology in iPhone, prior to integration, is curious but not useful. Apple allows a few million people to benefit from the technology rather than a few dozen, and that has tremendous value.

    Granted, if I were a techdrone I'd want to compile my own MP3 decoders, but most of the folks who will benefit from the technology have a life!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2007 @ 11:15am

    Quote, "...They just seem to have impeccable timing when it comes to pushing new (but existing) technologies into the public spotlight."

    I wouldn't say it's so impeccable - remember the Newton? Or how about the Lisa? How about the Pippin?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    yoshi, 12 Jun 2007 @ 11:16am

    I am going to bring up a non-apple example - the Motorola razr. When the thing was introduced (2004?) - it was one of the coolest phones out there. And what did Motorola do with it? Absolutely nothing (hey wait now in Pink!) and as Motorola released new versions - the user experience got worse (I've owned 3 of the darn things).

    The difference between Motorola and Apple is that Apple focuses on continually improving their products. The first iPod - while interesting - was not all that impressive. Apple took what it learned and improved it. More storage. Interface enhancements. Incorporated new technology. Identified new markets. Thats innovation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wigby, 12 Jun 2007 @ 11:59am

    then who does invent?

    if apple doesn't invent, who does? after the pc was "invented", what can you say is really an invention? microprocessors, hard drives and displays already existed, they just got faster and better. does google invent? they didn't do the first search engine or any one of their software solutions. the only inventors i can think of are the guys inventing new ways to improve old technology.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Long, 12 Jun 2007 @ 12:03pm

    yoshi

    Yoshi has a point about continual improvements, but I think it's more than that. None of the ideas in the iPhone are particularly new (inventive), but Apple's taken them and built something useful and useable and elegant at the same time (innovation), and done so in such a way that the whole is much, much greater than the sum of it's parts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steve, 12 Jun 2007 @ 12:06pm

    To me ipod is the worst mp3 player I've ever used, other than maybe some of the 1st gen rio with single line displays. I have had countless friends call me for help when their kid takes their ipod over to a friends house to have it erased when they plug it into their computer, or the many problems that come up when a family with 3 or 4 ipods and 2 or 3 computers try to get them to all get along.

    If Apple was such a market leader, they would control more than 10% of some market that they don't loose money on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2007 @ 12:15pm

    Yeah, I agree with wigby. Under these definitions, invention is delagated to such a tiny semantic corner that the word is practically meaningless. And the only real reason to make the distinction is to give Apple (or whoever) a left-handed compliment. Or basically, to say "Apple doesn't come up with any new ideas".

    And frankly, ideas are a dime a dozen. The difficult is the actual implemenation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike (profile), 12 Jun 2007 @ 1:24pm

      Re:

      The difficult is the actual implemenation.

      Which is exactly what we're saying. That's the innovative part, not the ideas.

      And the market rewards companies for implementing (innovating!) well.

      So why do we need additional protectionism for ideas, when they're not the key point in innovation?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    suv4x4, 12 Jun 2007 @ 12:27pm

    On morons and overpayment

    "I have owned 2 iPods: the 60GB (years back) and the 80GB. Both times, when looking around, reading reviews, comparing prices and capacities, the iPod in question was the best choice...in fact, both iPods were by far the best storage-capacity/price deal around.

    It sure sounds like they marketed the hell out of lil ol moron me"

    It really sounds like it. What on Earth are you going to put on 80 GB that you can play within the battery span of the device? Hell, within twice, or quadruple the battery span?

    If I offered you a 4 TB player for $1000, would it make a better player just because it hits a better storage/price ratio?

    It's not just about the ratio of feature/price. It's about what this feature brings you. It's about value. Value isn't linear as you increase a spec into obscenely large numbers.

    I'm a proud owner of a tiny cheap Chinese mp3 player with a humble 512 MB storage, FM tuner, and USB mass storage interface. It costs $50. I'm using the damn thing for years and years with stock rechargeable batteries, and I never ever felt the need to cram 80 GB of content on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      snowingcookies, 12 Jun 2007 @ 1:19pm

      Re: On morons and overpayment

      Being able to put all your music onto one device and not having to keep plugging it in to your computer each time you would like to listen to a different genre is a good reason for having a large storage device. Granted, also having plenty of videos to choose from is also nice (people also upgrade their TiVo units from 80gb to 500gb for this similar reason).

      Secondly, it is also nice to not have to worry about "out-growing" your devices capacity. I buy top-of-the-line in features now, so I wont have to buy bottom-of-the-barrel again in 6 months later.

      The things I dont like about ipods are the inability to record audio through an audio-in port, or to record FM radio to it... and the size of the device (a bit larger than my front pocket). For gym, I use a Creative Zen PLUS - for travel, I use the iPod.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2007 @ 2:09pm

      Re: On morons and overpayment

      Suv4x4, you're the moron. Just because YOU only need 512mb of storage, doesn't mean every does. Anyone who travels a lot could use the storage. Yeah, maybe 80gb is bigger than most people need, but there are people who use it. You can rip dvds (or buy them if you so choose) and put them on your ipod and watch them. Just because you can't watch/list 80gb worth of data before recharging doesn't mean its useless. I have had a cheap mp3 player with 512mb storage and have the 4gb nano. The 4gb nano cost me $250 and the 512 cost me $50. The 512 sucked. It had horrible drivers and no real good support. My nano is perfect for working out or short business trips, and having 4gb gives me the option to have a lot of music, so no matter what I want to listen to, I have the option.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        AMP, 12 Jun 2007 @ 3:12pm

        Re: Re: On morons and overpayment

        I have to agree with AC here.

        The statement "It really sounds like it. What on Earth are you going to put on 80 GB that you can play within the battery span of the device? Hell, within twice, or quadruple the battery span?"

        Does not make much sense to me....There are a number of reasons to have that much storage space.

        I also think that this discussion proves the point. There is no "cookie cutter" solution that will make everybody happy. Apple has come up with a solution to fit many different needs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Drtaxsacto, 12 Jun 2007 @ 4:48pm

    Apple and Innovation

    I am not sure I understand the difference between innovation and invention. Indeed, Apple does a bit of both. But I think the basic point of Anon Coward (notice the name) is fundamentally mistaken.

    The iPod is a great example. Apple produces something which by any count could not play its full complement of resources on one charge. But as someone who travels a lot it is great to have 40 gigs of entertainment from which I can choose on long flights. I also have capacity to grow, as mentioned above at a pretty good price. I have flown back from Asia a couple of times and used my 80 and my 30 and gotten through the flight. Apple pays attention not to what some techie wants but what a consumer wants. They then add in some features into their products which turn out to be very useful. For example in their laptops they were the first to install a video camera and a very simple program to allow video conferencing. When I bought my first laptop with that I did not think I would use it - now I use it a lot - it is simple and intuitive like a lot of Apple products. I am not sure whether that is innovation or invention.

    iTunes is another example of something that is part innovation and part invention. Apple forced the labels to change their distribution model. They still would like a different pricing scheme but they are not going to get it. I've quit buying CDs because I can sample music before I buy it and then often not have to get the klunker songs on some albums.

    If invention is coming up with new ideas then Apple does a lot of that. iTunes was a new way to sell music - which a lot of analysts suggested would not work and some are still pulling for the subscription model - which has a tiny share of the total market. iChat is a new way to think about communicating. Were there other ways to do that before? Sure, but the combination of using good technology and then actually listening to the consumer is critical. In my work Powerpoint is clunky and not especially useful - Keynote (which works off the original presentation software idea) has a bunch of great bells and whistles. Sure there were photo programs before iPhoto and Aperture but none are as useful to me.

    So in my mind the distinction between innovation and invention is not important - every idea has some forbearer. I am not sure why AC is so animated about this maybe he has to use the clunky techie solutions that ignore what consumers want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Charles Griswold, 12 Jun 2007 @ 7:24pm

    Ideas

    Patenting an idea is (pardon the pun) patently ridiculous. Ideas are a dime a dozen; just ask any author. The difficult part is turning an idea into an invention. Having ideas is nothing special; bringing them into the real world is what is remarkable, and what, if anything, is worthy of a patent.

    Edison once said that "Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework." IMHO, we should not reward people who do the 1% of the work to the detriment of those who do the remaining 99%.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, 12 Jun 2007 @ 9:26pm

    iPods

    THe one thing I don;t like about iPods is that you have to use a specialised program for loading the songs onto tehm in the correct forlders and file names. i hate iTunes, but that is beacuse it does not use a scratch playlist like Winanmp does and because it is a memory hog, and so i only use it when litening to others shared libraries I cannot get off of the network.
    To the idiot whose iPod got wiped when he plugged it into a friends computer, tell them to update iTunes, and set your iPod to manually synchronise. If you use vPod, then you have alightwieght program which can load music (but apparently not movies or art) onto an iPod.

    A large iPod menas that all your music can be stored on there, then it can be recharged ona ny computer and lsitened to anywhere, as well as being used as a small portable hard drive.

    What I would like to see would be the ability to rename on-the-go playlists from teh iPod, a eSATA + power connection, ability to save audio input, either from a mic or an FM radio, and a complete change to the way songes are organised, so that it simply copies the library file onot the iPod, with the media and image files organised precisely how they were organised on the computer. Ability for the iPod to rebuild the library on its own would be good to, since then no external program is needed, adn the iPod can be controlled directly from Explorer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, 12 Jun 2007 @ 9:28pm

    iPods

    THe one thing I don;t like about iPods is that you have to use a specialised program for loading the songs onto tehm in the correct forlders and file names. i hate iTunes, but that is beacuse it does not use a scratch playlist like Winanmp does and because it is a memory hog, and so i only use it when litening to others shared libraries I cannot get off of the network.
    To the idiot whose iPod got wiped when he plugged it into a friends computer, tell them to update iTunes, and set your iPod to manually synchronise. If you use vPod, then you have alightwieght program which can load music (but apparently not movies or art) onto an iPod.

    A large iPod menas that all your music can be stored on there, then it can be recharged ona ny computer and lsitened to anywhere, as well as being used as a small portable hard drive.

    What I would like to see would be the ability to rename on-the-go playlists from teh iPod, a eSATA + power connection, ability to save audio input, either from a mic or an FM radio, and a complete change to the way songes are organised, so that it simply copies the library file onot the iPod, with the media and image files organised precisely how they were organised on the computer. Ability for the iPod to rebuild the library on its own would be good to, since then no external program is needed, adn the iPod can be controlled directly from Explorer.

    Oh, BTW, I would take a 1TB iPod for AU$1k, but not US$1k, because that would eb a reasonable price to pay for a 1TB external HDD. HTe actual player would not e a huge part of the cost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jackson123r, 19 Jun 2007 @ 1:21am

    there's nothing really "new" in the iPhone, but what's impressive is how Apple packaged all of it in a way that consumers find appealing

    http://www.iphone-video-converter.org

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jan 2008 @ 10:38am

    Maybe Apple didn't invent the those things, but we have to remember what Michelangelo said, " Good artist borrow, great artist steal." I agree Apple hasn't been the first to creat something, but who cares? They take the ideas of others and maximize their potential. Apple has done what companies have done for centuries, steal ideas, make them ten times better and makets them better. I see no problem in that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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