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Is Apple Innovative or Just Adaptive?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 22, 2008

There is an interesting thread of a conversation about Apple’s innovation going on among those commenting on The Most Innovative Companies lead story for this issue of IN-Inside Innovation.

Andre started it off by saying that Apple was not innovative—it didn’t invent anything. It only adapted things others invented. That generated a storm of discussion about just what innovation really means. My take on “innovation” is that it is not invention. That’s a classic mistake people make. Innovation is creating something new of value. In the business world, that means creating something new of value that generates revenue and profits. Disruptive innovations that

change the game are often business model innovations that integrate five or six or eight different types of innovation.

That's what Apple is so good at these days. In its earliest incarnation, Apple was great as user-friendly innovation. Apple is now in a second, more sophisticated and impactful stage of generating platform innovation. Both the iPod and iPhone are platform innovations that incorporate many kinds of innovation. There were lots of MP3 players around before the iPod, a few of them quite beautiful. But Steve Jobs brought together a legal/business innovation (getting the heads of music studios to agree on 99 cent downloads), a software innovation (the iTunes store) and a great industrial design--the iPod. That's what makes for powerful disruptive innovation.

The iPhone is similar--it's a platform that thousands of developers are building new products for.

Reader Comments


April 22, 2008 6:49 PM

"Andre started it off by saying that Apple was not innovative..."

Well, that opening should be good for ten thousand clicks at least. Good start!
C'mon and join in on the bashing, suckers.

Ken Tarn

April 22, 2008 7:38 PM

Every single year Apple is voted by industry heads as the MOST INNOVATIVE company. Are you saying Apple's competitors don't know innovation? Are you wondering why Apple's competitors aren't INNOVATING themselves? Get a fucking clue about innovation before you open your retarded mouth.

IBM is not known for their INNOVATION yet they patent more ideas than any other company. Innovation is applying various concepts at the right time to serve a recognized need before anyone else can.


April 22, 2008 9:22 PM

The software innovation of iTunes was _not_ the store. Even the best MP3 management software at the time the iPod was introduced was clunky - without an intuitive interface for ripping music, creating playlists, or - most importantly - transferring music to a player. iTunes did all that seamlessly and kept pushing the envelope with new software innovations (smart playlists, sharing playlists across networks, etc). The iTunes store is certainly innovative, but NOBODY ever downloaded iTunes to access the store. They used iTunes primarily to get their own CDs on to their iPod.


April 22, 2008 9:38 PM

Just about anybody walking down the street would label Apple as innovative... and those same people vote with their dollars.

Jess McMullin

April 22, 2008 10:24 PM

Scott Hirsch (Management Innovation Group) suggests (and I agree) that the biggest innovation for Apple in creating their digital music ecosystem was for Steve Jobs to go against deeply ingrained culture at Apple and ship iTunes *for Windows*. Until that happened, there wasn't the base for the iPod + iTunes combination to create a self sustaining ecology.


April 22, 2008 11:51 PM

I happen to be part of the team at Xerox supporting PARC in the late seventies and was deeply involved in creating the the first generation of touch screen user interface. I suspect if we were to set the bar by companies such as Xerox or IBM, Apple might not be considered innovative. On the other hand, you cant eat a patent, or have a memorable experience with one unless your the patent attorney who wrote it or the inventor. The sad part is that Xerox for one innovated without relevance. Its a shame that anyone would even want to make a list like this. What's the criteria Business Week ? For those in the midst of innovation this list must seem superficial and counter culture to movements towards collaboration and greater visions of well being on community and global scales.

Mark Wynn

August 12, 2009 7:59 PM

"Adaptive, not innovative," he sniffed. What a silly rationale. Why didn't the author save verbage and just blurt out, "Oh,yeah ... Well, oh yeah?!"


April 6, 2010 6:56 AM

Apple really turned the curve when they stopped making their own failed computer design and started using regular computer parts like Intel processors. Then, they marketed their PC, "Mac" and made people believe there was a difference between "Mac" and "PC." For the unsuspecting, computer illiterate masses Apple cashed in selling their products for about a 30-40% premium.


June 13, 2010 10:11 AM

отлично написано, у автора прям талант


July 11, 2010 2:02 AM

Yeah, placing hundreds of patents on things that already exist so nobody else can 1up you is 'innovation'. /sarcasm off

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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