The Tablet PC – Invention (2001) and Innovation (2010) – What happened ?

In the Fall of 2001 at the Comdex show in Las Vegas Bill Gates talked about the digital decade and introduced the future of computing the “Tablet PC”.  Well the good news is the future of computing seems to be here, except it appears it will be delivered by Apple today in 2010, not Microsoft in 2001.  

Now mind you this assumes that the announcement today of the iTablet / iPad / iWillPayLotsOf$$  will live up to expectations and give us all yet another perfect excuse to max out on our credit cards and be the coolest kids in the office.  Given Apples recent history this seems to be a safer bet than not.

So what happened ? There have many discussion over the years on the difference between Invention and Innovation.   No point in starting that discussion again so I will just use one of the more popular definitions.  Innovation = Invention + Exploitation.  Essentially, no point in inventing something if you cannot use it to solve a problem, thereby creating demand for your product and of course to be followed by the age old formula of revenue – cost = profit and hopefully lots of it. 

The factors resulting in an invention turning into an innovation are really no different than those required of any new venture.  You need a product that works, it has to full fill a need, there has to be a team that can execute on the plan, you need financing etc. etc. etc.  Again, there are lots of smart people that seek to provide theories on how and why inventions succeed and what we can do to minimize the risk or failure.

I have no new theories to add.  But I do have a view on an approach that I think will increasingly become the foundation for innovation success in the next 1o years – Design Thinking .

Again I delve into an area that has many definitions and much debate.  The latest book by Tim Brown, CEO of design firm IDEO,  titled “Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovationis one of the more recent attempts at explaining the design led or human centered design approach and how it could increase your rate of converting inventions to innovations.

Now does Steve Jobs follow a design thinking approach, probably yes, though not in the IDEO sense, but in his own unique Steve Jobs way.  Was that one of the key drivers of the success of products such as he iPod, iPhone and so on – it probably does not explain all the success, but I do think it explains a large part of it. 

Here is the punch line.  The world is made up of human beings.  We have human beings that are consumers, we have human beings that work in enterprises, we have human beings that buy products and services, use mobile phones and participate in social media sites.  If this is true, then the only way to build the products  and services that humans will use, and enjoy using, is to keep their needs front and center in all aspects of product design, development, manufacture, sales and support. 

Going back to the initial premise of this post. The Tablet PC.  Microsoft is clearly a very successful company and will continue to be so.  In this case even though they Invented the modern day tablet (though variations of it were around even before then) it appears that Apple is poised to be the Innovator in this space.

So what happened –  and what happens to many times – is that  in the pursuit of the high-tech solution, we  forget the low-tech human.



2 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jamesfarrar, Zia Yusuf. Zia Yusuf said: The Right Question. A new blog post on the connection between 2001, humans , 2010 and tablet pc's […]

  2. Glad to see you put your IQ to work on this critical issue. Answers don’t matter if you are asking the wrong question!!! Look forward to your insights.

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