Apple Never ‘Invented’ Anything

Jean-Louise Gasseé, writing for MondayNote:

Did IBM invent the PC? Did HP invent the pocket calculators or desktop computers that once put them at the top of the high tech world? Did Henry Ford invent the automobile.

So, yes, if we stick to the basic ingredients list, Apple didn’t invent anything…not the Apple ][, nor the Macintosh, not the iPod, the iPhone, or the iPad…to say nothing of Apple Stores and App Stores. We’d seen them all before, in one fashion or another.

And yet, we can’t escape a key fact: The same chef was involved in all these creations.

Another brilliant piece and a thought-provoking read on this Monday.

The flipside of this article revolves around innovation. Many argue that Apple has never truly innovated, but instead has relied on pushing some flashy new technology in a slightly prettier package than its competitors at the right time. Others, and this is where I fall, believe that having the ability to act on new technology, to design beautiful and useful hardware and software, is innovation in and of itself. To continue with the “cooking” metaphor, the former values the individual ingredients – or technologies, such as processor type, or camera, or screen panel – while the latter values the finished product, and views it as a whole, and not at its individual components.

It’s a huge can of worms to open, but there does appear to be a category that each party falls in to. Those who prefer to judge innovation by individual inventions are generally those that value specs: from the System-on-a-Chip to the resolution and type of panel, they prefer to have the fastest, most technologically advanced device possible. In many cases, they believe the pushing of these high-end specs to be innovation.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who prefer to look at the overall product. These people look at a product, and take in to account everything: they do care about specs, but only as being a part of a whole. Specs are averaged together with more abstract thoughts, such as the feel of swiping through the device’s homescreens, or the app ecosystem, or even just how the device feels in their hand. Obviously, there is no way to measure this in a purely objective way – it can (and often does) differ from person to person. These people tend to be the ones that see Apple as a great innovator.

They look at just how different the original Macintosh was from every other shipping, widely-available computer at the time and see innovation. They look at the iPhone, and compare the before and after. Before the iPhone, they see BlackBerry-like devices from Palm, from Samsung, from Motorola. After the iPhone, they see designs that feature full touchscreens, they see screens full of icons. Did Apple invent either of these two seperate components? No, but it doesn’t matter – Apple was the first to package those concepts, along with others, in to a portable, desirable package and sell it to the general public.

It comes down to the definition of the word “innovation” – and that can differ, drastically, from person to person. The Holy Fan Boy Wars of Olde will continue, and while they can be fun from time to time, it’s important to remember that the whole concept of these arguments revolves around the notion that different people hold different definitions for the same word.

Post a response / What do you think?