Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 23rd Mar 2012 15:09 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless I'm currently reading Jerry Kaplan's excellent book "Startup: a Silicon Valley adventure". In this book, Kaplan, founder and CEO of GO Corp., details the founding, financing and eventual demise of his highly innovative company, including the development and workings of their product. What's so surprising about this book is just how timeless it really is - the names and products may have changed, but the business practices and company attitudes surely haven't.
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Member since:

Apple seems to get timing right more often than any other company. Knowing what to borrow/create, how to packaged it in to a useful product, and when to release is the hat-trick that makes Apple impressive.

Execution. That's the key to Apple success. Not innovation - but execution. Apple takes existing ideas (from other companies or academia) and turns them into products people want. An absolutely amazing skill - but as a geek with a deeply scientific education, it's just not as impressive to me as the people in the trenches - like Kaplan or the thousands of academic researchers - actually coming up with these ideas.

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lucas_maximus Member since:

That is innovation.

Innovation is the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.

Apple do this. They have taken 3 products that had quite a few problems ... Smart Phones, Tablets and Music players and made they better to the point where every competitor is compared to it.

Execution is as much part of innovation as is the original idea. It not who has the idea first, it who does it well enough to take off.

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Thom_Holwerda Member since:

You're right - innovation is not the right word here. I often just equate innovation with invention, and that's obviously not right. Replace innovation with invention ;) .

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Carewolf Member since:

I disagree. Innovation is obviously the process of make inventions. They are the same concept only differing in whether the describe the invention, or the process of coming up with inventions.

Apple does innovate, but as much in the technical field, as they do in presentation, marketing and business development (I see iPad as a business innovation, the real genius was getting all the content holders to allow iTunes).

Edited 2012-03-24 22:17 UTC

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kristoph Member since:

Execution. That's the key to Apple success. Not innovation - but execution. Apple takes existing ideas (from other companies or academia) and turns them into products people want. An absolutely amazing skill - but as a geek with a deeply scientific education, it's just not as impressive to me as the people in the trenches - like Kaplan or the thousands of academic researchers - actually coming up with these ideas.

I think that 'innovations' like the iPod, and iPhone, and the iPad are more then just a questions of execution. More like a confluence of 'innovations' (created or otherwise derived from earlier work) that are combined to create innovative products. These may exist in some for without Apple but that does not mean they would be as defining as what Apple does.

Moreover, execution in hardware is really not that huge a deal. Obviously,
Samsung can execute in the manufacturing arena as well if not better than Apple. They just have not assembled products that people want as much as Apple products.

I also think Apple is getting the ecosystem for their products way better then anyone else. In the tablet space the only true competitor to Apple is not an HP or a Samsung but rather Amazon because they've got an ecosystem for their offerings.

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lucas_maximus Member since:

It part of innovation.

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Tony Swash Member since:

I suppose this is where we differ. I used to be Marxist about a million years ago and my favourite quote of his, the one which is on his grave stone which is in a cemetery only about a kilometre from where I live, is this: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it"

Accepting for the sake of argument that what you say is true (and leaving aside inconvenient facts like that Apple created much of the grammar that makes up the modern desktop OS) where we differ is that I think that innovation in execution is far more important, far, than innovation in unexecuted ideas. People can sit around in rooms having great ideas that never change anything or see the light of day, but it means nothing unless they get up up, go out and make it happen in the real world. If the idea is 10% then making it happen is the 90%, and it's that bit that is interesting and world changing.

Here are some thoughts about what makes Apple special and what underpins their success:

Taking total responsibility for the complete end user experience: from the silicon to the retail. Few companies do that and the whole Windows/Android model militates against that approach. But end users love it.

Setting the bar high. Nothing is released until it's ready, but it doesn't have to be perfect. No beta releases (Siri being a very rare exception). Version one needs to be as good as it can be and must be solid when it comes to core functionality, and then roll continuos iterative improvements.

Understanding that design is not about wrapping or enclosure but about making objects that connect to and empower people and with which people can form emotional as well as practical relationships.

Keeping it simple. Simple interactions, accessible design and functionally, and crucially a simple product line. The latter is hugely important, it makes the consumer's job easy when it comes to understanding the relationship of one product to another and it has a vast impact on Apple's supply chain.

Don't be afraid. For example not being afraid to cannibalise it's own product line. Making a phones that would compete agains the iPod, making a tablet that would compete against it's own laptops, not being afraid is very important.

Being focussed on products and not the bottom line. Think like an engineer, feel like an artist. A company can’t produce beautiful products if the bean counters win every argument. One of the telling things that several commentators have talked about recently is that when it comes to product design there is almost no discussion of component or production costs during the product design phase at Apple.

This two part article is quite good

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galvanash Member since:
2006-01-25's just not as impressive to me as the people in the trenches - like Kaplan or the thousands of academic researchers - actually coming up with these ideas.

Coming up with ideas is quite easy - it is a purely mental exercise. In no way am I trying to minimize the importance of them, but an idea in isolation is no more than a mental construct, it has little or no value until you do something constructive with it.

Taking an idea to market involves a whole lot of work beyond the idea itself. Ideas can be judged on their merit to a degree - but there is a process involved with turning one into a product. That process and how well you do it is arguably much more important that the idea itself as far as market success goes.

The irony with Apple, imo, is that they seem to see themselves as an idea company. Even their slogan, "Think Different", conveys this notion. They put a huge emphasis on intellectual property - they obviously look upon their IP as a key to their success and protect it jealously. I say it is an irony because while this may have been true in the past - it really doesn't matter much anymore and I don't know why they bother other than to maintain that "image"...

The Apple of today absolutely excels in crowded markets - markets where there are many companies executing on the same ideas. The point is if everyone is executing on what is basically the same idea - then the idea no longer really matters...

Almost all of the markets their products are in are extremely competitive, and yet they continue to perform above expectations in most of them - totally dominating in many. They are rarely if ever first to market with anything - but their entry into a market (once they get around to it) has a tendency to transform it completely. They seem to have a knack for this... They never appear to be competing with other companies - they always force other companies to compete on their terms.

Innovation and execution is virtually EVERYTHING for Apple - they just seem to like to maintain the image of having thought of everything first. I'm not saying that they never come up with original ideas (they do) - it's just that the ideas are not at all that important to their success.

On a personal note - I also find your viewpoint on this surprising. I know from past experience both of us are opposed to software patents. In practice patents create an artificial market value for ideas. Ideas without patents have relatively little monetary value, because without the legal construct of a patent an idea is free to anyone who sees or hears it. I oppose patents (especially in software) because I believe that ideas should be free - the way to monetize an idea is to implement it better than everyone else (quality, innovation, execution, etc.).

I don't quite understand how you can place so much value in ideas and still be opposed to patents - it seems like two diametrically opposed positions. That isn't meant to be critical, I'm just curious how you rationalize that.

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Thom_Holwerda Member since:

I don't quite understand how you can place so much value in ideas and still be opposed to patents - it seems like two diametrically opposed positions. That isn't meant to be critical, I'm just curious how you rationalize that.

Finding ideas more important personally does not mean I automatically approve of protecting them. Note that I'm not criticising Apple for taking other people's ideas - heck, I think it's great! That's how ideas are supposed to work - heck, it's how mankind progresses the fastest. Especially in a world as frantic and fast as the technology world, protecting ideas with patents is not just monumentally stupid, it's diametrically opposed to the industry itself. Patents were thought up in a world of relatively slow, mechanical development - not the fast-paced world of tech.

Every night a new, better, faster, and more fucntional CM9 build shows up. Patents are just incompatible with that.

Edited 2012-03-23 21:29 UTC

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galvanash Member since:

To add to this, I don't think I have ever really posted what I think the solution to the patent problem should be - and my previous post might by misleading.

It don't believe ideas should be free in an absolute sense. There is definitely a need for some way to monetize them on their own - because they are often valuable.

My approach to patents would be simple. If you come up with an idea for something, you are free to "patent it", but a patent would be a very different thing from what it is now:

1. A patent would not disclose the idea at all initially. What it would do is create a binding legal construct that would allow you to negotiate its use with companies who might want to purchase it.

2. A company who chooses to negotiate with a patent holder is essentially barred from using or disclosing the details of the patent with any 3rd party. If proof of such 3rd party disclosure is found - the patent holder can sue for damages. In essence it becomes an NDA but with much stronger penalties and government oversight and such negotiations are required to be recorded as part of the patent record.

3. As a patent holder, it is your responsibility to keep the idea secret from anyone you are not on record negotiating with. If someone else uses your idea and there is no documented negotiation tying them to your patent it is assumed that the idea was independent and your patent has no power over that implementation. If there IS a documented negotiation the government has power to investigate whether the party your negotiated with and the 3rd party has dealings - if so see 2.

4. Until purchase terms are agreed on and settled, companies can not execute on an idea in a patent, again with the penalty of severe damages if they violate this trust.

5. Once a patent is "sold", regardless of terms, it becomes null and void and all legal ramifications of violating the terms fall under existing contract law. The patent is simply a protection during negotiation.

6. You cannot resell a patent - it becomes null and void once sold. Part of the process of selling it is at the time of the sale it becomes public record so that those wishing to patent an idea in the future can determine whether or not their idea is actually unique.

7. It is up to the buyer to determine whether a patent is actually unique during negotiation. Once terms are reached and the patent goes on record as sold, the seller is legally protected from any and all legal recourse concerning originality. I.e. buyer beware.

There is of course a lot to work out, but that is the basic framework. How is this different form existing law?

1. If you have an idea and you choose to productize it yourself (as in a company that makes products comes up with the idea) patent protection simply does not apply at all. Patents are a way to create a marketplace for ideas, not a way to protect products from competitors.

2. Once the ideas in a patent are sold, it is completely up to the buyer to decide how and if they want to disclose that idea. The idea itself is no longer protected legally - only the terms of the sale are protected (and only under contract law).

3. This form of patent offers no legal protection at all in the market place. It is simply meant as a way to protect inventors, not manufacturers.

Anyway, something like this would be immensely better imo.

Edited 2012-03-23 22:00 UTC

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Jaktar Member since:

You took the words right out of my mouth Thom.

Here's a TED talk about it as well.

This applies not only to Apple, but to many other companies as well.

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jared_wilkes Member since:

In what way was Kaplan in the trenches? You've fallen for the hagiography of the opening chapters of Kaplan's view of events. Kaplan and Kapor didn't think up pen-based tablt computing for the first time out of the ether on that plane trip. Pen computing was invented in the 50s and 60s with the RAND Tablet and the Styalator. Kay fully conceptualized tablet pen computing and its social implications in the 60s. People had already been thinking about it for a hundred years. Carr, the chief architect of anything actually produced by GO, brought all of his expertise and knowledge from Xerox Parc developing the Alto. Pencept, along with several others, was well ahead of GO in terms of timing and technology -- they just didn't get the hype being an oldschool NE tech corridor company rather than a flashy, well-financed SV startup... And ultimately GO purchased them to improve the quality of their system and handwritten recognition. Every tech company in the early 80s was trying the same -- the reason GO failed so spectacularly is they didn't have one piece of the pie, so they shopped it to EVERYONE in order to get them to make a device or make an OS component, or to make apps, and every time the potential partners were not convinced by the pitch or were already working on one or more pieces or knew they could execute the whole package better than GO ever could (the only sucker was AT&T and even then, they mostly fell for it just to rationalize their development of microprocessors). Kaplan was no more in the trenches than Steve Jobs was -- and he was certainly orders of magnitude separated from the trenches than someone like Sakoman. Kaplan seems to, even now, want to hold onto some of that hagiography of a serendipitous idea shared over a troubled flight that no one else had had before him, but even in his shared comment here, it is very clear that even he can't hold onto that myth. (Heck, it's been more than a decade since I read it, but I seem to recall Kaplan even then pointing out in the book that he was shocked he was able to pitch investors when he didn't have any tech or much of an original idea or much chance of successfully bringing it to market; that he was able to get so much money for so long on passion alone, and that whatever products they did produce was based solely on the ability to buy up or attract the real trench workers away from larger companies already working on the same thing.)

Trying to carve out some special "original idea" or "in the trenches" grunt work for Kaplan is at best odd and biased and at worst just plain wrong. (Or is that the other way around?)

Edited 2012-03-25 18:22 UTC

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