The Difference Between Invention And Innovation In The Netbook Space

from the it's-all-about-the-tweaking dept

Business Week's Steve Hamm has a short post talking about the "sudden" success of "netbooks," those mini-laptops that are suddenly selling like crazy. As he notes, smaller laptops are not a new idea, and have been tried for many years in varying formats without much success. But, for some reason, after so many different experiments, it seems that the sweet spot in terms of size, usability and price have all been found.

This actually highlights something quite common in technology innovation: the difference between the idea, the invention and the actual innovation. Just the idea alone wasn't enough to actually make the product valuable. Finding that real sweetspot is a challenge for just about any product, and it involves an awful lot of experimentation to make it work. I've been reading about the early days of a number of inventions lately, and you see this story over and over again, where the initial versions really have no market, and it's a later, totally minor tweak that suddenly makes it valuable. And, of course, the best way to get that tweak to happen quickly (and thus expand a market, and improve the overall economy) is to let a lot of different players experiment to throw a lot of ideas at the market to see what actually does hit that sweet spot. Tragically, with a patent system that grants monopoly protection at the invention stage, this is often a lot more difficult, slowing down the attempts to actually hit that sweetspot.
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Filed Under: innovation, invention, netbooks


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  1. identicon
    gyffes, 18 Dec 2008 @ 5:31am

    Indeed

    'zactly, Steven. Psion's devices were great but never really marketed over here.

    What we DID have that clearly came WAY too early were the Apple Newton devices, both handhelds and the eMate, which not only resembled the current netbooks in dimensions but STILL kicks their butt in features (built in handle, sturdy shock absorbing case, INSTANT ON, terrific handwriting recognition, fabulous battery life... list goes on).

    People looked at the (massive, I'll be honest) Newtons and asked, "WTF?", but those who tried them are dedicated to them, still. With the iPhone, Apple's essentially recreated their utility in a nicer package, but as a forerunner, the lineage is clear.

    Now I just need Apple to come out with an updated eMate (mine sits, too long disused but still useable, on the desk next to me, now) and I'll be a happy man. Even with all my Madoff-related losses.

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