Why is it important to be an innovator?

04 Apr 2011


History teaches us that it’s important to be first in the world of technology. Design a cool new gadget, announce yourself as the innovator and arrive on the market before the competition even has time to draw breath, let alone release a rival product. It’s a flawless plan.

Olympic hero Daley Thompson gets to grips with a computer from the good old days

But to benefit from all the kudos of being the first to market, you must have a product that’s as practical and affordable as it is groundbreaking.

Who wants to buy a gadget just because it’s the first one out when you know there will be a better version along shortly?

It’s great to be first, but first you must get it right.

If you’ve been tempted to buy the latest version of the Apple MacBook Pro, then you’ll no doubt be impressed with its compact design and powerful performance. Apple, along with the likes of Dell and HP, is among the world’s leading laptop brands.

Yet none of today’s most popular manufacturers were the first to come up with the portable computer. That honour went to the now defunct Osborne Computer Corporation with its Osborne 1, released in April 1981.

The Osborne 1 featured a five-inch screen and a keyboard which could be accessed by unhooking a latch on the briefcase-shaped device. It was perfect for a businessman and wowed with its competitive price and bundled software.

Although Osborne had a quality product, company founder Adam Osborne managed to commit commercial suicide.

He talked up the successor to the Osborne 1 too soon and people stopped buying the first incarnation, preferring to wait for the improved version – losing the advantage of being first.

Apple is currently enjoying huge success with the iPad and could be credited for breathing new life into tablet computers. So it’s surprising that its first crack at a tablet-style device didn’t perform quite as well.

The Apple Newton PDA had all the ingredients to be a success – it had the internet, email and calendar functions.

But unfortunately for Apple, it was also buggy, cumbersome and quite expensive. Apple released updates to the Newton but it couldn’t be saved from the early criticism it received.

Observing Apple’s mistakes from the sidelines, Palm stepped in and released its Pilot, which did everything the Newton could do but in a smaller package for less money.

Apple eventually dropped the Newton in 1998 and went away to conjure up a new tablet plan, having learned the importance of fully developing a product before releasing it. Now Apple’s tablet has been joined by the impressive Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook.

More recently, Nintendo has been the leading innovator in the gaming industry. The Japanese company changed the rules with its motion-controlled Nintendo Wii, before shaking the industry again with the glasses-free 3D console, the Nintendo 3DS.

Where Nintendo has succeeded is by having products to match the hype generated by the technological advances.

The Wii has won fans because the console is affordable, motion control really works and yes, it was the first of its kind. Now the 3DS looks to be in line for similar success because 3D elements actually add to the gaming experience, rather than being tacked on as an arty afterthought.

There are great advantages to being first with a product, but manufacturers know gadget fans like us expect the new developments to be practical and affordable.

So for now we’re perhaps wiser to just enjoy the rumours about what exciting new developments are on the horizon… and play on our Nintendo 3DS while we wait.

What do you see as being the next exciting innovation in technology? Is being first important, or is it just vital to have strong features? Comment below…