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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  1. 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.

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