Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Innovation "killers" never play by the leader's rules

I was perusing my Twitter stream today when I noticed that one of the Tweeters I follow has decided that the new Nexus tablet from Samsung isn't an iPad "killer".  Yet again another tablet has failed to unseat the iPad from its position as the leader of the tablet pack.  But what concerns me isn't whether or not a new tablet will "kill" the iPad, it's the concept that new products should "kill" the leader in an industry.  In my estimation, that's a misreading of history and the wrong target for innovation.

If we examine what Clayton Christensen said about innovation, especially disruptive innovation, he argued in the Innovator's Dilemma that most disruption happens from products that offer less feature or benefit than the existing expectation.  Further, anything that is going to knock the iPad out of its leadership position is going to do something dramatically different than the iPad is doing, not simply doing what the iPad does on a larger screen, or with more memory.  That's what I think has gone missing in the "killer" discussion.  To win in an established market, you don't want to do more of the same, you want to shift the rules entirely.

Any innovation that overturns a dominant market position in hindsight will appear obvious, but in foresight will seem dramatically new and different.  That's because the innovation doesn't extend the strengths and capabilities of the leader, but often plays judo against the leader, playing off of its strengths.  Take, for example, the American car industry in the 1960s and 1970s.  GM, Ford and Chrysler didn't lose to Honda and Toyota because the Japanese imports made larger, faster, less fuel efficient cars with more extended tailfins.  No, they lost because the Japanese made sensible small cards that eventually offered high quality and excellent gas mileage just as the price of fuel increased.  You don't double down on what the leader has to disrupt - you change the rules entirely.

What will this mean for the eventual iPad killer?  It won't mean a larger screen, or more memory, or better sound quality or higher resolution camera or video.  That's eventually a zero sum game that every one of the tablet providers is playing.  What we all need is ubiquitous computing but we are all still encumbered by a physical device.  The eventual iPad killer will offer some mechanism to access content and basic computing with virtual commands - like Tom Cruise in Minority Report - using a heads up display on special glasses and a computing device that easily slips into your pocket.  It will be far smaller, far less intrusive than the iPad.  What it won't be is a complex, multifunction device.  We've finally reached the point where cell phones are sold on the basis of their cameras rather than on the quality of the voice connection, which was the original, and sometimes still the basic purpose.

Of course I could be wrong - not about how the iPad will be killed but about the mechanism and design that will kill it.  Perhaps it is overtaken by a simpler device, perhaps by a Dick Tracey wrist computer, perhaps by a complex multifunctional device.  But I can assure you that it won't be "killed" by offering more of the same, which is what many tablet providers are offering.  Innovation isn't about constantly extending the limits of what benefits are offered, but about thinking about the offerings in new and different ways.  One interesting concept that could upend the iPad would be to change the business model - offer tablets at no charge that reap benefits from more ads.  I'm a bit surprised that Google hasn't at least pursued this concept.  But that demonstrates that more innovation is possible outside the physical framework of the iPad - business model innovation, customer service and experience innovation, channel innovation - are all possible but so far neglected by tablet manufacturers locked into the dimensions, pixels and weight of the device.

Disruptive innovation almost never originates from within an industry, and rarely starts from the rules and expectations set out by the leader.  Disruptive or "killer" innovation in any industry happens when someone changes the rules entirely, or innovates in a completely different way that matters to customers.  Who is playing judo with the iPad - using its strengths as a weakness?  Who is overcoming the most significant issues that the iPad presents when it is used?  That's where the killer lurks.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:52 AM


Blogger Larry said...

Very true. Thanks for the reminder. It is all too easy to fall into the bigger, better, faster, trap.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I totally agree that you cannot simply kill an innovation by offering, as you said, more of the same. Old-school mobile phone wasn't killed by more buttons - touchscreen killed it.

Although this nexus 10 looks quite an achievement ( by the way, why did Google move away from Asus?) it's certainly not an iPad killer. It more seems like a catching up with anything, that Apple innovates in. Pretty much like Google+ is trying to kill Facebook with almost exactly same features just improved ones, rather then trying to find what people really want/need.

As for killing innovations, I've read another article with almost the same title, but totally different idea - killing innovative ideas before they are even launched. Could this be a problem that iPad "attempt-killers" are dealing with?

2:52 AM  

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