Innovation in America: An Endangered Species
If innovation were an animal, the government would’ve put it on the endangered species list by now. I have many opinions as to why this has happened, but then again, I have a lot of opinions about everything, including my opinions.
Now, we shouldn’t confuse innovation with change: the rate of change in technology is becoming mind-boggling. But all the change reminds me of a swarm of locusts descending on a field. Each little locust doesn’t account for much. But as a swarm, it becomes an entity unto itself and has enormous impact regardless. So lots of things are happening, but not so much in the way of innovation… just a lot of copying, and more of more. More internet all the time. More video. More ways to get video. More ways to get video into more places. More wireless everything. More wireless stuff that never seemed to have the need to be wireless until everything else seemed to be wireless. By the way, is anyone else wondering if all these wireless signals going through the air are ever going to reach critical mass and blow up all our heads one day?
Anyway, innovation has certainly propelled Apple to the top of several heaps, which is one piece of evidence as to why I think innovation is otherwise endangered, because this little company in a little city called Cupertino is quickly becoming a monstrous enterprise, mostly because of innovation. If innovation weren’t such an endangered species, Apple wouldn’t have had so many forests left open for invasion.
But with all of Apple’s success, what are all the companies out there doing in response? I’ll tell you what I see: copying. It’s as if none of them can understand that it’s innovation that’s driving the ship, so they just try to copy the ship.
Let’s take the iPad. Before the iPad, the numerous attempts at making a tablet computer failed miserably. The iPad comes out and is a runaway success and what do other companies do? They just copy it, as if suddenly there is a market that materialized out of thin air. There was always a market for iPads, it just needed a company to create a product that would satisfy the need. A little innovation, if you will.
The same thing is true with the iPhone. Before the iPhone, using a cell phone was about as complicated as launching the space shuttle. 90% of the populace used 5% of the features, while the other 10% could turn them into devices that would make James Bond jealous. I have to think cell phone companies were all copying someone’s original design, with no one considering the possibility of changing things up. But along came Apple – who wasn’t even in the cell phone business at all – and they changed the game. So then all the cell phone companies, who had absolutely no business allowing Apple onto their turf in the first place, started copying the iPhone. Hello? Can we dial 1-800-innovation?
Maybe Microsoft is to blame for making imitation stylish. They became a behemoth copying the Apple OS and got into other markets well after the first innovator started the ball rolling.
So now that Apple has surpassed everyone in popularity and notoriety, with sales increases that are mind-boggling for a company its size, maybe someday innovation will be in style again, and we’ll start to see fresh ideas instead of everyone just copying Apple. But first, manufacturers have to stop worrying about copying Apple and try to come up with their own ideas. After all, Apple can’t possibly corner the market on the best engineers and great ideas.
It’s just looking that way right now….