Category: innovation

A brief look at Google Glass hype

In my talk about the innovator’s mindset, I always preach that hype is one of the worst possible compass. It can be hard to look back on hype (because it takes so many forms), so I found this enumeration of some of the crazy things that happened when google glass came out interesting. All this for a product that has now been sent back to the drawing board. Hype ≠ success!

Time Magazine named [google glass] one of the “Best Inventions of the Year.” It got its own 12-page spread in Vogue magazine. “The Simpsons” devoted a show to Google Glass, though Homer called them “Oogle Goggles.” Glass did the rounds on the morning and evening shows, and it was the subject of numerous comedy skits including on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Colbert Report” and countless YouTube videos. Presidents from around the globe tested them. Prince Charles wore a pair. As did Oprah, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence and Bill Murray.

There was also the moment at New York Fashion Week in 2012, when Diane von Furstenberg sported a red pair, and sent her models down the runway with different-colored ones. Later, in a slickly produced video, Ms. von Furstenberg (wearing a new pair produced by DVF | Made for Glass) told Isabelle Olsson, a Google designer, “We revealed Google Glass to the world.”

And in another sign of its cultural import, The New Yorker ran a 5,000-word feature on what it was like to wear the novel device, written by a so-called Google Glass Explorer invited by Google to test the product. Here, Gary Shteyngart comically recounts an impromptu product demonstration he gave on the 6 train. “Are those them?” one businessman asked him. “That is so dope,” a college student says. “You’re lucky.”

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How Apple became Apple (and why they will struggle to maintain their position)

Great read on how Apple overtook Microsoft because Microsoft was a dominant, sleeping giant. And now guess who is in that position…

Protecting your business model without innovating is a dangerous proposition.

I think even Microsoft would agree that they’ve been too concerned with protecting Windows over the years, to their detriment.” […]

Always cannibalize yourself.

“Steve ingrained in the DNA of Apple not to be afraid to cannibalize itself,” Mr. Isaacson said. “When the iPod was printing money, he said that someday the people making phones will figure out they can put music on phones. We have to do that first. Now, what you’re seeing is that the bigger iPhone may be hurting sales of iPads, but it was the right thing to do.” […]

Trendsetters are rewarded for taking risks, followers, well, follow.

Microsoft has repeatedly tried to diversify, and continues to do so under Mr. Nadella. But “it’s been more of a follower whereas Apple has been more of a trendsetter, trying to reinvent an industry,” […]

Now Apple is the prisoner of its own success. Only way seems to be down, the question is when.

Some investors worry that Apple could become the prisoner of its own success. As Mr. Sacconaghi noted, 69 percent of the company’s revenue and 100 percent of its revenue growth for the quarter came from the iPhone, which makes Apple highly dependent on one product line. “There’s always the risk of another paradigm shift,” he said. “Who knows what that might be, but Apple is living and dying by the iPhone. It’s a great franchise until it isn’t.” […]

Can Apple continue to live by Mr. Jobs’s disruptive creed now that the company is as successful as Microsoft once was? Mr. Cihra noted that it was one thing for Apple to cannibalize its iPod or Mac businesses, but quite another to risk its iPhone juggernaut. […]

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Is the 2004 Swiss Smartwatch the reason why there won’t be a 2015 version?

I met last Friday with a team of entrepreneurs who told me that ten years ago they were working on a Swiss smartwatch: the Microsoft/Tissot SPOT. And indeed, in 2004, both companies teamed up to produced what was hyped back then as a supercomputer on your wrist. The project never took off, and is probably one of the reasons why Swiss watchmakers are now so reluctant to invest in this field.

Reminds me an terrifying conversation I had with a couple of three-years-from-retirement professors at my Alma mater. I was asking “so what are your plans around online courses?” Their answer: “we tried CD-Rom interactive e-learning in the 90s, and it didn’t work, so don’t tell me that the MOOC thing is relevant, it just doesn’t work!”

Seems to me the Swiss watchmakers are stuck in a similar reasoning: they tried smartwatches way before the market and technologies were ready, and because of their early failure they are now writing off the whole thing. Big mistake! Jobs didn’t stop doing tablets because the Newton failed. He used this as a learning experience, one that convinced him a good interface didn’t need a stylus. He waited for screens to be better, for chips to be smaller, then came back with a product someone who hadn’t failed before probably could never come up with.

Being early on a market is really hard, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop innovating, especially when technology moves as fast as it does.

Will the iWatch sink Switzerland?

[Apple’s chief of design] Jony Ive thinks the iWatch will sink Switzerland

Switzerland has a rich country disease, which is that most business people, having made money so easily for so long, don’t really feel the urge to innovate. The iWatch and co will certainly reshape the watchmaking business, yet all you hear in .ch is how it won’t change anything, business will carry on as usual etc.

Most Swiss watchmakers laughed when the Swatch came out, and 20 years later it’s that innovation that had saved the day – and that is now making conservative statements. People have such short memories.

Yesterday I was reading in a local newspaper how Geneva taxis absolutely didn’t care about Uber’s arrival in the city. Pretending something doesn’t happen is not a great business strategy.

I used to work for a large music retailer in the 90s, and when FNAC and internet came they were answering interviews saying “it won’t impact our business”. Five years later they went bankrupt.

I really hope Switzerland, blinded by (locally written) competitiveness reports that claim it’s the world most innovative country (no idea how that result was reached, probably counting number of patents, i.e. the 20th century, obsolete measurement) will wake up, and that more initiatives like Maximilian Büsser’s MB&F will save the day. We need entrepreneurs now more than ever.

Are we complacent towards Chinese innovation?

Why we should not overlook China’s capability to innovate:

“China’s ability to innovate is massively underrated, particularly in America. […] The biggest 3D printer in the world is in China, and what are they using it for? To build aircraft parts for the Chinese homegrown airliner that’s going to take on Boeing and Airbus. And Boeing and Airbus laugh at this going, ‘Don’t you know it takes decades to develop and we don’t have to worry about that’. This is what people said about Japanese watches and Japanese radios and look what happened – Sony took over that industry. This is all very much worth keeping an eye on, and I think there’s a real danger of complacency in the West when it looks at China.”

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A short history of video blogging services (and an innovation lesson)

What’s interesting with the internet is that it’s now an old enough technology that senior citizens like me can talk about certain things that anyone below 30 will have never heard of ;)

While I was checking Vine and Instagram yesterday, it hit me that these brand new apps are actually iterations of the Seesmic concept, which started as the “twitter for video” allowing users to post short clips of themselves talking in front of their laptop’s camera.

It was the same thing, but with small differences: there was no limit on time (vine is max 6 seconds), Seesmic was leveraging laptop’s cameras (not phones), 2008 technology was not as flawless as today, there were no smartphones. In the end Seesmic never took off, with a reported 20k monthly users in 2008. In 2009 it pivoted to become a social media client, then its user base was acquired by HootSuite in 2012.

It’s interesting to see how an idea, if good, will still impose itself. It just takes time:

  • Technology has to be ready: Seesmic didn’t have a mobile user base, so doing videos was limited to using a laptop’s camera. All videos looked the same, and the quality was much lower than smartphones’ lenses.
  • Users have to be ready: Seesmic looked like a tool for early adopters, that demanded a good knowledge of both technology and public speaking. Nowadays everybody under 35 shoots three minutes of video every day.
  • Society has to be ready: in 2008 the view on social media was that they were the realm of futile discussions, self promotion; everything but interesting stuff.

There are plenty of other factors (design, usability, etc) but it must be a little bit comforting for founder Loic Le Meur to think that his vision was right.

This reminds me of Walter Isaacson’s realization in Steve Jobs’ biography: there is “an aesthetic flaw in how the universe works: the best and most innovative products don’t always win.” Sometimes the winners are those who come later and copy.

Did Kodak get it too much?

The Kodak story is used over and over, including by me, to illustrate how a great company can completely miss a change in its environment and become irrelevant in a few years. Here is a completely different view, making the point that Kodak’s failure comes from trying too hard to understand the new world – losing focus in the process.

The classic story of Kodak’s downfall is that it just didn’t get it. Kodak built film cameras, and made money on the film, not the cameras, and was so obsessed with this profit stream that it completely missed the tidal wave of digital photography and the internet, and thus ended up in the ash heap of history.

The reality is much more complex. As an illuminating Harvard Business School case study shows, Kodak executives understood the threat extremely well, and from the very start. As soon as computers came along – not even the internet, computers – people at Kodak understood what it meant. You know, they weren’t drooling morons.

And when they understood this, they understood that they had to disrupt themselves to survive into the next century. Kodak spent billions of dollars of research and development into digital imagery. They bought a large photo sharing site in 2001. They spent the 1990s and the 2000s trying to find a way to combine their cameras with computers and the internet, and to build software and services to try to enable that.

So, what happened? Well, what happened is that the next step for digital photography wasn’t the internet. It was point-and-shoots. Canon and Fujitsu and other companies came out with really good, simple to use point-and-shoot cameras at the right price point that people loved. They didn’t have fancy photo-editing software or photo-sharing sites, but people didn’t care, because they were good cameras.

Kodak completely missed the wave of point-and-shoot, and that’s what caused it to crumble. Instead of, like a smart company, pouring billions into software and services R&D, Kodak should have been clueless and poured billions into camera R&D.

In other words, Kodak was so focused on disrupting itself and not falling into the trap of the innovator’s dilemma that it lost a grip on its core business: making good cameras. It turned out that in order to remain relevant in the internet age, a camera company didn’t have to turn itself into a photo-sharing website. It just had to make good cameras.

Kodak wasn’t “clueless.” Kodak didn’t “not get it”. It “got it”, and that was the problem. It “got it” too much.

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I’m not sure I come to the same conclusion. I would not say Kodak got it too much. Kodak was aware changes were coming (a positive for which they certainly don’t get enough credit), they tried to adapt (one more point for you Kodak people). But they based their strategy on the wrong signals. The market didn’t demand  a complete reinvention (going into new businesses like photo sharing, etc), rather an update of what the company was doing well, i.e. capturing pictures in a qualitative, effective and economically efficient way.

What’s cruel about this whole innovators dilemma thing is that the signals you should completely reinvent yourself (think: Nokia’s transition from a rubber and forestry company to a mobile phone company) really resemble the signs its “only” time to update your products with the newest technology.

All these things are really easy to analyze on hindsight. But as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says in the above article, “one should always be humble when saying ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda'”.

China’s knockoff economy is itself a knockoff – of the US!

I am currently working on a book project, working title “surviving disruption”. I am trying to build a set of rules that successful organizations can follow to strive in times of intense technological change. One of the rules I have observed is that the present and future look a lot like the past. The same phenomena tend to repeat, just disguised under another form. Maybe faster and more interconnected, but in the end very similar to each other.

Here is another case of what I am talking about: today’s emerging superpower is accused of stealing ideas from the established players. This is a repeat of history. When the US were the world’s emerging force, a lot of the country’s business model was based on ripping off the UK’s entrepreneurs and artists…

Perhaps the most important thing to recognize about China’s knockoff economy is that it is itself a knockoff. When the United States was just beginning its rise to wealth and power, it was every bit as much a pirate nation as China is today. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the United Kingdom was the primary target of thieving Americans, who focused their economic espionage on the British textile industry. American entrepreneurs sought to replicate secret British designs for looms and mills, and the U.S. government stood ready to help them.

As in contemporary China, imitative innovation was official policy: early U.S. law prohibited foreign inventors from obtaining patents in the United States on inventions they had already patented elsewhere […]. U.S. copyright law was similar, explicitly denying any protection to foreign authors. That ban was not lifted until 1891, and even then, foreign authors were required to manufacture their books in the United States as a condition of U.S. copyright protection. […]

The most famous beneficiary of such laws was Benjamin Franklin, who republished the works of British authors without permission or payment.

What is fascinating is that, as Basile Zimmerman explained at Lift10, the Chinese do not copy/paste the ideas they find interesting. They use them as inspiration, adapt them to their constraints, creating genuinely new products and services in the process. As the article explains, Chinese copies sometimes end up “more functional and more fun than the service it copied”.

To understand how imitation and innovation coexist in today’s China, one need only look to Xiaomi, one of China’s fastest-growing technology companies. […] Xiaomi’s phones look familiar because many of the company’s designs closely imitate Apple’s iPhone. And design is not the only cue that Xiaomi takes from Apple. At a recent product launch, Lei Jun, the head of Xiaomi, stood alone onstage in a black shirt, jeans, and black Converse sneakers—déjà vu for anyone who ever saw the late Steve Jobs, the founder and former ceo of Apple, introduce new products at a Macworld convention. […]

Xiaomi’s success, however, also hinges on the company being quite unlike Apple. For one, Xiaomi’s phones typically cost about half that of its rival’s. Even more important, Xiaomi has a very different attitude toward innovation. Apple is known for its closed approach to product development. The company believes that it knows what its customers want before they do, so Apple’s design process is essentially dictatorial. Xiaomi’s design process, by contrast, is quite democratic. Every Friday, Xiaomi releases a new round of software updates for its mobile operating system, which is based on Google’s open-source Android software. Within hours, thousands of users flock to Xiaomi’s online forums to suggest new features, functions, and designs and to identify and resolve software bugs. Xiaomi has relied on user input to determine how much memory to install on its phones, how important the phone’s thickness is to users, and whether its phones should allow users to take photos without pushing a button. Lei might dress like Jobs, but he runs his company very differently.

Xiaomi is hardly China’s only imitator-innovator. Weibo, the country’s most popular social networking service, boasts hundreds of millions of users. It began in 2009 as an undisguised Twitter clone. Since then, it has added a clutch of features that distinguish it from Twitter, including a more interactive system for commenting. Such improvements make Weibo arguably more functional, and more fun, than the service it copied.

Read full Foreign Affairs article here