Tuesday 29 June 2010

Future transport - 1936 style innovation

After a quiet early summer period here on my blog when I have been busy with other things, I couldn't resist a posting on the subject of transport futures, having spotted this Pink Tentacle article; and so it heralds a period of more regular blogging from me again.

I'm sure James Dyson would feel vindicated about the most recent ball innovation he has brought to his range of vacuum cleaners should he see the Pink Tentacle article which highlights spherical wheels for future transportation. [Although I have to say, as good as Dyson cleaners are, it seems a little strange to see the trademark symbol ™ against a plastic ball!] If Dyson were to combine their excellent vacuum technology with some robotics, I would be sorely tempted to upgrade to another Dyson that does the cleaning itself, as is the case with some other brands.

Getting back to transport though, it is interesting how the Pink Tentacle article content from 1936 concentrates on different wheels as defining the future. The reasons given for the spherical wheel innovation (smoother ride & cushioning in an accident) are also different to Dyson's reasoning of better manoeuvrability! A majority of current forecasts for future cars focus not on different wheels but different engine technology and navigation systems. It demonstrates how innovation needs to address the issues of the moment. The problem in 1936 with cars wasn't the number of internal combustion engines polluting the planet but the discomfort of the ride, quality of road surfaces and poor suspension.

It was the same with the innovation of the original iPod. The issues of the moment then were not that playing music couldn't be done on the move (as it was when Sony brought us the original cassette Walkman). Some commentators at the time saw iPod as just the next form of portable media after CD players. Actually the issues of the moment were more about being able to not only take any amount of music with you, but to select any track from thousands simply and easily as well as embracing the moment of broadband internet facilitating the download of music.

And this idea of addressing the right issues of the moment holds true for successful innovation, whatever the product or service. To think about future transport requires though about about what the future issues of the moment might be!

Thursday 10 June 2010

Why iPhone 4 will stay ahead...

So Apple has revealed the iPhone 4, the fourth incarnation of the device that reinvented the phone. It pushes them further ahead of the competition. They will continue to be even harder to beat. This article deals with some of the reasons why.

The usual pundits are already simply comparing iPhone 4's megabytes, megapixels, and battery minutes with other devices. They miss the point as usual; it's about the complete experience and quality of both hardware and software, and most importantly how they fit together. And they will do the same with FaceTime, Apple's name for the new open standard they are publishing for video calls. They will compare it with other video chat software, again missing the point ... it's about how simple Apple have made it for people to use and the total experience it gives them. If you watch the heart-string pulling FaceTime video Apple have made, there is more time given to showing the faces and feelings of the people using the service than given to video of the service on the phone itself. This is very deliberate and significant.

The pundits will be looking to see what Google do with Android and what others offer in the same space. Actually it will be very difficult for even huge companies such as Microsoft and Google to copy iPhone 4. One of the reasons that few people recognise is that Apple are unique in making both the hardware and the software. Google don't make phones ... they rely on HTC, Motorola and others to do this for Android. Microsoft will also rely on many other big corporations to make hardware for WinMo 7 phones when they eventually launch it. Even if two large corporates do true partnership deals, they cannot achieve the same degree of integration as a single company. And players like Google and HTC are not true partnerships, rather simply contracting customer/suppliers. Moreover, a single large corporation cannot achieve the same efficiency and innovation level as a much smaller company that behaves more like a startup.

The problems of building the hardware and software in different companies is not simply organisational and due to poor inter-company communication. It is also about the two organisations having different end-goals, vision, business models and culture. Even branding is a problem ... neither company would want or agree to be invisible to the end user. If a third party makes an app on top of this two-party device then that is 3 splash screens the user has to endure before they can do anything useful! That is not an experience to die for. Neither are the inevitable inconsistencies that creep into the user interface.

Fusing in-house designed software and hardware does produce a better product with a better user experience. This is the difference between iPhone 4 and the competitors that will try to rival it in the coming months. RIM's market share is falling, Android's is growing along with Apple's. However the Android market is fragmenting with so many different phones, system versions, capabilities and specifications. It's not just simplicity in the user experience that most consumers appreciate but also simplicity in the choice of type of device. It's very hard for the man/woman in the street to understand the difference between the various Android phones... they understand much more that there is an iPhone out there; the Apple product portfolio is also very simple. The competition face a very steep hill climb in 2010/11.