For a good look at what INVENTION truly means, I suggest a look at the video post above. Some of you have probably seen this. That's Jefferson Han, showing off his Minority Report-like Multi-Touch Interface.
For those wondering, there is a crucial difference between this touch screen technology and that sported by the new iPhone. Jeff Han's patented interface is actually rear projected, while Apple's patented gesture user interface is actually overlaid on the screen.
Now Jeff Han's interface is amazing. But it is an invention, not an innovation. While the iPhone's interface is an innovation. How so?
The word INNOVATION has become so watered down in our culture: Everyone's an innovator, everything's innovative, everybody is a genius.
At Wondaland we are following the cues of SRI, the Stanford Research Institute. These guys say innovation is only one thing: Innovation is the process of creating and delivering new customer value in the marketplace.
And these SRI guys know a little about innovation: they helped Douglas Englebart create the computer mouse and the personal computer interface; they helped create the Internet designations .com, .org and .gov; they sent the first transmissions over wireless and wired networks; thereby creating the Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet; they created the standard for HD-television; they did the feasability studies and scouted locations for Walt Disney's Disneyland, and on and on and on....
They agree with you that there's several things going on in an innovative product. For instance, you might have:
- a new technological breakthrough, such as the discovery of the transistor
- a new invention, such a one-wheel scooter
- a new business model, such a no-frills airline
- a new production process, such as a lower-cost way to make computers
- a new creative design, such a sleek, sexy automobile
For example, in Innovation: The Five Disciplines of Creating What Customers Want, Curtis Carlson, the director of SRI, relates the following:
"Philo Farnsworth invented television in 1927, but it was David Sarnoff who created television broadcasting to bring black-and-white television to the consumer in 1939. He developed a successful business model that put together televisions, cameras, broadcasting stations, program content, and advertising. Farnsworth invented the device, while Sarnoff was the innovator who put all the pieces together to create an industry."A rich example can also be found with Edison:
"Thomas Edison was a master of knowing when to attack a problem, and he created one marvelous innovation after another. For many years he did not work on the lightbulb. He realized it was a huge opportunity, but he also knew that the technology needed to create the infrastructure to distribute electricity was not practical. once he decided the infrastructure could be built, he put his prodigious energy behind the task and created a durable lightbulb, parallel circuits, an improved dynamo, an underground conductor network, safety fuses, and insulation, and light sockets with on-off switches."
"The objective is, as Edison knew, finding solutions to important customer and market needs where all the pieces come together. The electric light bulb was an invention. The creation of the light bulb with a practical electrical distribution system that could economically deliver power to customers was an innovation--one of the most important in the history of mankind. Edison did his homework and, among other things, created the phonograph, the cinema, and the modern research laboratory. He also created General Electric to build his innovations, now the second most valuable company in the world after Exxon with a market capitalization of roughly $300 billion."
As Fast Company pointed out in its feature story on Jeff Han, often inventors aren't innovators: they have no idea what their technology can be used for. In fact, Edison thought "his phonograph would lead to the paperless office; businessmen would record letters and send the waxed discs through the post." Likewise, Jeff Han doesn't know how his mapping software, photo manipulator, or any of it will be ultimately used-- these applications are proofs of concept, not marketable ends in themselves.
And until Mr. Han or someone else figures it out, Apple will remain the Edison of the touch-screen interface world.