Innovation's Genome

I think Apple's new Nano is a mistake (i.e. worse than the previous version), but I think that Apple is falling into an innovation trap and being very successful at avoiding the consequences. On one hand, it has to change products so that the old one looks, well, old. On the second hand, sometimes the changes are for the worst (witness the no button shuffle). On the third hand, Apple has not changed the laptops significantly for more than 3 years without negative consequences. How is it that a laptop that can be 3, 4, or even 9 years old, doesn't look old, but an iPod looks instantly old when a new version comes out? Apple's magic.

But the best trick Apple has done is convince people that they are individuals if they buy they same piece of electronics that everybody has. How does that happen? Easy, normal people don't like to try things. Many years ago I wrote an article about Operating Systems. In it I complained that we should buy Operating Systems the way we do cars: By comparison shopping, but that that was very hard. I realized now that I was being young and foolish then, well, I am old and foolish now. People do not comparison shop for cars (or for almost anything). People use different brands of cars when they rent or borrow a car. They get what they are used to and what they know. From time to time what looks good or is cheap or the press hypes it. Same with computers, phones. mp3 players and what have you. This is the end of innovation. Well, not really, cars are innovative all the time. Because they are made by engineers, hackers, and makers, and talked about by geeks and freaks in places like Autoblog. What they are not is crazy innovative. If they don't conform with certain norms they won't get made and the same will happen with gadgets of all kind as they get massively popular. Products will look and feel similar and most people interpret that as a good thing. But the breed suffers. From an evolutionary stand point it is like we are killing the mutants. Not only the ones that couldn't survive on their own or would be a burden on the tribe, but the ones that have superpowers and could feed the whole tribe.

And what happens is that the gene pool stagnates, like in cars. Certain things change, slowly, but there is no radical departure. If most people do not like convertibles, convertibles are not made. If people like SUV, most cars will be SUV like. That will happen with phones, because opinions like this one will push it that way. Even the geeks can't see different perspectives. That's what gave us Windows, that's what gave us the iPhone. I don't like it. As K.V. use to say, and that, is that.

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