So last week, Apple announces iOS 7 and there are three camps: One, the group like my parents who aside from having to get used to a slightly different interface will continue to use it and likely love it. Two, people like me who appreciate that they’re going in a different direction and trying new things and are looking forward to it. Three, people that say snarky things about a lack of innovation, copying features from others, etc.
The funny thing about innovation is that many times it isn’t obvious when you first see it. When the first iPad debuted I’m almost embarrassed by how underwhelmed I was. Here’s what I said:
- My netbook runs Skype and has a built in webcam and mic.
- My netbook’s bluetooth and/or USB connection allows me to tether to my phone.
- My netbook can run Silverlight and Flash (maybe not great, but it works well enough).
- My netbook has an SD slot and USB.
- My netbook has a 160 GB hard drive.
- My netbook can multitask and run apps simultaneously.
- My netbook only cost $435 and can do all of that. – an iPad is $499.
The worst part of that list is that I was actually using a netbook regularly. Yuck. I thought I wanted a Mac with the keyboard removed; not an oversized iPhone. The media chimed in with the same sort of rhetoric. Turns out we were both wrong. What’s disconcerting about innovation is that often times we’re trained to believe that our first impressions are correct and it’s jarring when it’s not. It was hard for me to wrap my head around how much my experience differed from my initial, uninformed opinion.
When a coworker got an iPad and I tried it, I was hooked. The experience of using it surpassed the concept of its existence. It was hard for me to reconcile that something I dismissed wasn’t this useless thing that I thought it would be. In fairness, none of the things I said were technically untrue but ultimately none of that mattered because the overall experience was better than the features on a list. In less than three years almost every complaint I had was gone. In less than three years, three iterations of the original design (iPad 2, iPad 3rd generation, and iPad 4th generation) and a variation (iPad Mini) had shipped.
The mobile space is iterating far rapidly than the desktop market ever did. Consider the life span of a Windows release before a new revision is shipped:
- Windows 3.1 – 3.5 years.
- Windows 95 – 3 years.
- Windows 98 – 3 years (vast majority of users didn’t adopt Windows 2000 or ME and you know it)
- Windows XP – 6 years until Vista
- Windows Vista – 2 years
- Windows 7 – 3 years
iOS and Android release major versions every year. At the time of this writing, the iPad has seen two major versions (iOS 5.x and iOS 6.x) with the third (iOS 7.x) by the fall. Three major releases will have shipped in the time that one major release would’ve happened with Windows on the desktop.
Apple posed the question in their WWDC 2013 presentation “If everyone is busy making everything, how can anyone perfect anything?” That’s a fair point. What is innovation? Is innovation forming a list of hardware specs on a sheet and then checking them off one by one regardless of the technology adoption or relevance? Is it adding things that have existed for years on desktops like widgets? Or is it weighing features one by one and adding them at your convenience as you iterate on a regular schedule? Whenever a new iOS announcement is made and people grouse about it we forget that it’s only a year until the next version. Remember when you got a new OS at almost the same rate as we elected presidents or had Olympics?
When I look at iOS 7, I see a beautiful OS that has some very nice things in it that I can’t wait to try. As with previous releases, many of the changes are iterative. Some are borrowed from the jailbreak community (Control Center is pretty much sbsettings). Some offer functionality that was already in other iOS apps (keychain in iCloud is very similar to Agile Bits’ 1Password). Is this a rip off or is it innovation? It depends on who you ask. The overall functionality improves at such a regular rate that those iterative changes become cumulative changes very quickly. I don’t expect an announcement of the importance of the iPod, iPhone, or iPad every year. What I do expect is that I’ll see a compelling argument that this year’s iterative changes give me functionality I didn’t have last year, present a compelling use case for the features that they are adding now, and still walk away with the hope that anything I feel was missed will be included the next year. I don’t form my opinion until I try the finished product because much of the experience will initially be intangible. I do not feel that the “Apple doesn’t innovate” meme has any real credence because in the span of a major release a year, neither Google or Apple are as likely to stumble upon something so earth shattering that no one has ever thought of it. That doesn’t mean that they don’t innovate. Apple didn’t invent the concept of the tablet … it only invented the first commercially successful one yet the iPad is considered by most to be an innovation because it ended up changing the way we looked at tablets as viable computing devices. The same is possible in software because we may end up viewing some previous implementation of a feature done in a different way that makes it more useful than its original iteration.
Now that I’ve made a reasonable observation, I will engage in a bit of snark for a moment: What good is innovation in 2013 if most of your customers are running the newest OS of 2010?