Stay hungry, stay foolish

Is Apple innovative?

David Hopkins on the Google+ made an interesting point

Am I missing the innovation everyone holds Apple in such high regard for? All I am seeing is reaction to what is happening elsewhere but no real drive or innovation. The latest updates are in reaction to Dropbox, user keyboards, messaging, widgets/homescreen, etc.

Apple have always been like that, even under Steve Jobs.

What they do best is take ideas from other people and make them really work well for users.

Steve Jobs famously said in 1996:

Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ — and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.


The Dynabook was first revealed in 1973, the HP TC1100 was a fantastic tablet (let down by a poor OS implementation), so when Apple released the iPad in 2010, this wasn’t innovation, this was reinvention of an existing form factor, and what they did was make it work and work well.

There were a few music download services prior to iTunes, but it was iTunes that made it mainstream.

There were many different mp3 players, from companies such as Creative, but it was the iPod which turned the mp3 player from a geeky product to a mainstream need.

The iPhone was, though innovative, most of the touchscreen phones before were clunky and didn’t work very well. What Apple did was take the touch interface to the next level, reinvention again, really.

Even Steve Jobs said reinvent when he announced the iPhone.

An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator… these are NOT three separate devices! And we are calling it iPhone! Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is.

Even Steve Jobs said reinvent when he announced the iPhone.

The 11″ MacBook Air is a fantastic piece of kit, but before then we had the Asus EeePC mini-notebooks, and Sony for years were making innovative VAIO laptops.

So following the WWDC keynote where we saw Apple release their version of Dropbox, the iCloud Drive (which replaces iCloud, which replaced MobileMe, which replaced the iDisk!). The previous versions were all a bit “rubbish” in comparison to Dropbox, so it will be interesting to see how iCloud Drive works against Dropbox.

Store any type of file in iCloud and access it on any device. With iCloud Drive, you can organize your files in the cloud the way you like, create as many folders as you want, and add tags to find files faster.

This is a great example of how Apple continues to copy what others do, but also demonstrates that don’t always get it right.

Another example from WWDC is the possibility of using third party keyboards.

iOS 8 brings the biggest changes to the keyboard since the very first iPhone. Now you can tap to choose the perfect suggestion for your next word. And for the first time, third-party keyboards will be available. Typing as you know it might soon be a thing of the past.

Third party keyboards have been a feature of Android phones for a fair while now, this is another example that shows Apple rarely creates something totally new, but takes on board ideas from elsewhere.

In my opinion what makes Apple a success is they focus on the customer experience, learning from what others do and then improve it.

Lastly a quote from Steve

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.

2 Replies to “Stay hungry, stay foolish”

  1. Equally, there is very little any companies do which is truly innovative – the whole world works by standing on the shoulders of what has gone before.

    I.e. aero glass introduced in Windows 7 was actually another version of the same translucency which had been made possible by 3rd party skinning tools like WindowBlinds for a while.

    When talking about innovation then, we’re usually looking at relatively minor new things and/or combining existing things in new or better ways.

    So the iPhone used capacitative sensors in its screen rather than resistive and some quite clever new algorithms to interpret a “mush” of sense data into a standard set of gestures and to react to those in a consistent UI metaphor which was immediately intuitive because they’d done a lot of home work to get it right. It was innovative because capacitive touch screens were seen as expensive and too imprecise by others and that a stylus was therefore a necessity for precision and cost. Oh and they also had to reinvent the UI to avoid the need for precision too – so where as MS and others who’d tried to do tablets and touch phones couldn’t break out of the mind set of taking desktop UI interface elements and using them on a smaller form factor, Apple started from scratch and worked up.

    Re: iPod – again, the genius and innovation was not in having a portable music player (it wasn’t mp3 at first as I recall…that was a huge business innovation they dragged the music industry into once they had the momentum to do so), the invovation was again in introducing the touch wheel for control – a completely new UI control which was immediately easy to understand. But it was also the innovation of making friends with the music industry, playing their game initially with DRM etc where as other manufacturers saw their players as competing with music industry because they played MP3s when they were being seen as killing the CD market. Realising that the answer was to pander to their insecurities to get them to work with you to make a better UX was innovative – MS I think tried it later with Zune but they’d already missed the boat and did it badly – no one else came close until years later by which time, Apple had revolutionised the market and (then) become one of the biggest companies on the planet.

    Look at the first iMacs – just having the guts to say “computers can be made to look really stylish and that alone is enough to change a companies fortune”…innovative.

    Apple are far from being alone in their ability to innovate, but to write them off as being “un-innovative” just because others had done something similar or related in terms of the tech is largely missing what IS innovative about what Apple do – they (sometimes) completely reinvent whole industries because they look at things differently. They did it with the Apple II, the Mac, the iMac, the iPod (and iTunes), the iPhone and the iPad. All of them have cause huge changes in how everyone else sees what’s possible and how to do things well. That’s innovation in my book.

  2. NB – I agree that this WWDC didn’t demonstrate much which I’d call innovative…except “let’s invent a new programming language to completely revolutionise how our developers work to make them drastically more efficient and productive”…wait, no that isnt just innovative, it’s potentially revolutionary (I reserve some judgement as it’s yet to prove itself as successful).

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