The Difference between Innovation and Invention – the 3rd Age of Mobile

by Randy Giusto

The Difference Between Innovation and Invention - the 3rd Age of MobileDo you know the difference between innovation and invention? In the mobile space, Apple and Samsung have legally clashed over it. Other brands are doing the same as they try to protect their intellectual property. A whole ecosystem has arisen around IP law and enforcement.

If you have been in mobile for over ten years, you should remember the early platform wars. The first age was dominated by brands that only held the top spot briefly — Palm, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and Nokia. Industry dynamics have also changed. Mobile has evolved from a separate strategy to digital, to one where mobile is now a front and center if any brands are to thrive.

The second age was the rise of Apple and Android, although Apple was in mobile if you look back and include the Newton. Our usage of PDAs evolved into smartphones. But it wasn’t until iPhone and Android arrived that mobile hit its next inflection point. And then came consumer tablets.

If you only recognize the present day, then you missed out on a lot of innovation that came beforehand.

Five years ago Apple entered as an innovator by enhancing the smartphone concept. A capacitive touch screen was added and deeper design elements were featured resulting in aesthetic curves. The iPhone felt different in your hand. Apple also delivered a comprehensive app locker that was no longer carrier controlled. These became the central focal points of the platform, ones worthy to go to court over.

By pushing “ease of use” Apple transcended other mobile brands and changed the landscape in the process. Though it was late to smart phones, it was on time for tablets, and now plays a significant role catapulting sales for both categories.

So you ask. “Did Apple invent or innovate?”

To INNOVATE is to take an EXISTING concept and make it better. To INVENT is to make something entirely new; something that did not exist at all, before. Both smartphones and tablets had already existed before Apple came along.

I’ve just answered your question.

Apple took a commercially successful product, made noticeable improvements, and catapulted its popularity in modern society. Smartphones were expected to overtake mobile phones eventually. Apple just sped things up. It delivered a more pleasant experience, Android countered, and the global market rapidly broadened.

Spending years looking at technology in development, in labs, on drawing boards, or in final stages, I can tell you that new products and services don’t appear out of thin air.

It takes many, many years of small but critical changes to develop at the component level. Cellular technology took decades to perfect ─ you might argue it’s still not perfect trying to make a phone call in San Francisco. I did a series of talks in Europe back in the late 1990’s when Bluetooth first arrived. It’s taken more than a decade to refine it to become ubiquitous. The same experience is there if you look back at Wi-Fi and forward towards NFC.

Many standards bodies formed around mobile over the years. Major players got on board. Multiple revisions rolled out, constant tweaks were made, each bringing new improvements to utilize new technology and ultimately optimize the customer experience. Open standards led to well functioning, well designed, mobile devices. But then something happened.

Ecosystems or platforms arose above these standards as far as importance. It is at this level where the current battle in mobile is being played out. As ecosystems took off so did the race towards securing IP. Today’s battles are more about protecting intellectual property than about true innovation that leverages open standards.

Today’s lawsuits aren’t about innovation. They are about securing market domination and maximizing profits. Can you even track who is licensing what from whom and how the lawsuits crisscross?

Those of us who work in tech recognize that Android is an open while Apple is a closed platform. Apple owns the hardware, software and much of the services stack. Its closed system is enjoying immense popularity today as far as press coverage, consumer awareness, and litigation activity.

Many still believe that open systems have a longer term advantage. Android may dominate in smartphones, but it needs more big brands with huge volume besides Samsung.

As expected, Android has fractured into many different versions and the devices in people’s hands have not all embraced the latest OS version. They become rapid dead ends. Meanwhile, Apple’s closed architecture marches to the beat of its own carefully managed upgrade and replacement cycle drum, but they only support you if you are two versions away.

Each new iPhone, from the original to the iPhone 5 is an example of innovation — taking EXISTING technology and making the experience better. Though they are testing customer resolve with Apple Maps and Lightning.

Today both data consumption and app spending on iOS eclipses that on Android. For developers, Android’s fragmentation and low paid app sales in relation to iOS is still an issue years after its debut. Three years ago developers focused on iOS first and then Android. Three years ago a senior person at Google pointed out to me that the mobile Web was the future direction for application development. Three years later, little has changed.

After losing the smartphone crown for most of the last ten years, Microsoft now looks to reestablish itself with Windows Phone. Mobile operators around the world have been begging for a strong alternative to Apple and Android for several years. But Windows Phone is not an open system.

It’s ironic that Apple has put a Windows-like lock on the smartphone and tablet markets. Windows’ OS dominance in PCs took 15 years to pull off. Apple’s dominance in mobile took five. But as Windows Phones arrive, the age of closed systems may be here for some time. But I’m keeping my eyes on Mozilla and HTML 5 after last week.

Platforms will evolve and brands will innovate, but maybe its time to invent something different. Maybe that’s the third age.

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The Difference Between Innovation and Invention - the 3rd Age of Mobile

Randy works with marketing and brand management to visualize, conceptualize and strategize marketing initiatives from ideation to implementation. He blogs at NewDigitalCafe and has directed innovation, market intelligence, and strategy assignments to help brands succeed. Past SVP, Innovation Research at Ipsos; Group VP/GM, Digital, Mobile, Social Research at IDC.

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  1. Very good article.
    I predict the 3rd Age of Mobile will coincide with the 3rd Age of Computing because regardless of device size, OS, origin, purpose, price, standards, mobile or not, programmable devices are shaped, governed and indeed limited by the tenets of computing itself.

    First age: hardware and software, single source. Second age: hardware and software, many sources. The fact that it took mobile a while to catch up with multiple source software means very little in the grand scheme of things, in my opinion. It was inevitable.

    Most don’t realize RIMM tried for years, but failed because they believed they had to get all carriers they sold to (aka all carriers) at the table and singing the same song in the same key lest they lose channels faster than a Sumo wrestling team would sweat pints in a sauna. RIMM failed. RIMM had no leverage with any carrier, because their business model was to partner with all. But more than that, RIMM didn’t (doesn’t) understand computing. They thought they were in the cell phone and email business. Nope.

    What is the 3rd Era? Well, if I told you here, you wouldn’t be surprised when it was commercialized. 😉 Here is a bit of a hint: The 3rd Era of Computing will change the game so drastically that it will displace the web as king of internet services so resoundingly that people will say, “Good heavens. How did we ever suffer the web for so long?”

    Seem far fetched? Ask yourself one simple question. How long was the former king of internet services king before the web displaced (not replaced) it to become king? The answer will shock you. 🙂


  2. I had to see the definition difference between innovation and invention. There is some fool running around linked In telling everyone the difference is ; “Innovation is the presentation of a hypothisis, not the proof of it – that’s inventing”. He is the executive director of the United Inventors Association, hes giving bad definisions and inventors are believing him !

  3. I strongly agree with John Young…….

  4. John Young, correct me please if I am incorrect, but the reason you had to see the definition difference between innovation and invention is because you have never taken a product to market. Is this not a correct statement? Is it a correct statement that you own a company inventors for inventors to get other inventors products to market but have not taken your own product ideas to market?
    I have observed you on many forums making claims of advice for others but you have not been able to achieve the same on your own. If I am incorrect in my statement please list a link to your products on the market that you have invented and I will apologize.

  5. I must disagree with John Young. He makes claims he needed to see the definition difference between innovation and invention. John is it not correct that you run a company claiming to help inventors get products to market? If that is true shouldn’t it be true that you know the difference? Could it true you don’t know the difference because you have not taken a product to market? What makes you qualified to work with others when you have not taken your own ideas to market?

  6. i still dont completly believe those so-called inventor helping inventors organization.

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