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Apple Versus Google Innovation Strategies 187

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-it-done dept.
porsche911 writes "The NY Times has a great story comparing the top-down versus bottom-up innovation approaches of Apple and Google. From the article: '"There is nothing democratic about innovation," says Paul Saffo, a veteran technology forecaster in Silicon Valley. "It is always an elite activity, whether by a recognized or unrecognized elite."'"
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Apple Versus Google Innovation Strategies

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  • by alen (225700) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @12:53PM (#38878677)

    ipod released only after there was a market for MP3 players
    iphone released after some phones got the ability to play music files, access email and surf the internet. WAP had been around for years
    tablet concepts had been around for years as well

    Apple's innovation is to find a new market or one in need of a new product
    make a list of all features currently available or wanted
    pick one or a select few thought to be the top features and do them better than everyone else
    add in the rest of the features over the next few years

    apple has never released a brand new unique product that no one ever has

  • Elites (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) * on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @12:54PM (#38878683) Homepage Journal
    Needs one kind of elite to innovate, and another kind of elite to monopolize, shut down, put trivial patents around that innovations or other "innovative" measures to avoid them to succeed.
  • by Joehonkie (665142) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @12:55PM (#38878703) Homepage
    Way to downplay those two items, which are used by millions, and conveniently ignore Android and Google Maps, among others.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @12:55PM (#38878705)

    Apple got away with top-down because it had developed an incredibly strong brand, with incredible customer loyalty. Part of this was based on the intense focus they had/have on image control and artistic design, part of it on the almost cult-leader-esque charisma of Steve Jobs, and part of it on their conscious cultivation of their "hip underdog" status (even as they became anything BUT an underdog).

    Very few can pull that off. And it takes a lot of work over a very long period of time.

  • by rjstanford (69735) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @01:14PM (#38878955) Homepage Journal

    Is "adopted" the right word here? It's funny how some people consider that same "influence" to be stealing [forbes.com].

    Of course, the fact that Apple did, indeed, pay Xerox for those ideas, makes it hard for most people to see it as stealing. They got an amazingly good deal because Xerox didn't value what they'd developed. Again, not stealing.

  • by ultramk (470198) <ultramk&pacbell,net> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @01:16PM (#38879001)

    While I agree in some aspects... I have to disagree in others. For example, while MP3 players existed before the iPod, the market largely didn't: there were three main types of machines out there, big HD-based nomad-type players the size of paperbacks with gigs of storage, CD-MP3 walkmans, and small flash-based players with only 16 or 32mb of storage (only enough for a handful of songs). I only knew one person who actually owned an MP3 player before an iPod, and I was smack-dab in the middle of the target demographic at the time. The reason for this is that all the options had big flaws:
    - The big Nomad-type players were heavy, fragile, had terrible interfaces, expensive, and could only run off battery for a little while. Even worse, they were all USB 1 based, which meant that transferring music was incredible tedious.
    - The CD-MP3 devices could hold a lot of music and were cheapish, but they also had terrible interfaces, were as big as a discman, and went through batteries super quickly. They also required a whole additional step of burning off what you wanted onto CDs ahead of time.
    - The little stylish flash players were neat, portable and had good battery life, but only holding 5 or 10 songs made them a complete joke.

    I really think what Jobs' method was, was to look at a class of products and say "OK, here's what exists. Why do they all suck so much?" ...and in the process of answering that question, create a new device that gets right to the heart of the problem and addresses it instantly.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @01:23PM (#38879079)
    When was the last time you really saw a brand new unique product?

    You got a Rock, You smash you hand it hurts, your enemy comes after you, you smash him with the rock, you win. Lets get a bigger rock, lets attach a stick to that rock. Lets sharpen the point of that rock, Lets use lighter rocks that throw better. Lets use an other stick to throw that rock and stick further, Lets put a vine to an other stick and use that to fire the rock on a stick. Lets add some feathers so it flies smoother.....

    You were walking over a log you pushed it and a heavy object on to of it moved much easier, you use the the log to move other heavy objects, you get more logs and move it. You use the large part of the log and put a heavy stick in the middle and moving things is a little easier you put something around the Stick to stop it from slipping off, you get an animal to pull the wagon....

    Innovation is not coming with something brand new and amazing it is incremental steps improving the original product. Then finding a good niche for your improvement.
  • by ultramk (470198) <ultramk&pacbell,net> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @01:26PM (#38879119)

    Really what you're saying is just a variation on "Apple fans are all deluded fools who buy everything because it's cool." Of course, that kind of ignores history: Apple wasn't the cool brand by any stretch until the last 12 years or so.

    The reason that over the years Apple was able to make and retain such intense customer loyalty was because they chose to focus on making sure that every aspect of their products made the user's life a little bit easier. When you see--in a thousand little ways--that someone has gone to the trouble of trying to make it easier for you to do what it is you're trying to get done... intense loyalty is a natural result.

    The difference between the Mac OS and Windows (back in the old days at least) was that Windows was designed and engineered to sell to IT buyers and CTOs--not the users, while the vast majority of Macs were bought by the person who would use them. The difference in priority showed.

  • by johnlcallaway (165670) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @01:26PM (#38879127)
    His philosophy speaks to why I don't buy Apple products .. lack of choices. While some lament the Android phones and it's associated plethora of choices, that is exactly why I prefer to my only choice being black or white. But I like to analyze and comprehend the impacts of different configurations. I know what I want Mr. Jobs, I need Apple to make devices I want with the options I want. And one of those options is ... lots of options and price ranges. Until then, I'll continue to go elsewhere.

    It's almost like people buy Apple because they don't want to have to think .. it's safe. There have been moments when Apple had true advantages in specific markets, such as graphics design. But for the most part, Apple products were perceived as easy to use and dependable and really were more about packaging existing technologies into better containers that true innovation. Jog button, mouse, GUI interfaces .. all existed before Apple added them to devices.

    But Apple did it in a way that meant no thinking was required. Some called it intuitive, yet I and others have stumbled over such idiotic interface choices like using the trash can to eject. And swiping to unlock. Pinching to zoom and unzoom. And holding a button down to power off. Sure, they make sense and are easy to use once you are shown, but that didn't make them intuitive.
  • by gadget junkie (618542) <gbponz@libero.it> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @01:59PM (#38879495) Journal
    I think that the whole Article is based on a false premise, i.e. that the two approaches are different, while in reality the Apple model is a (successful) subset of the Google model.
    In Google, no committee or burocracy has control of the creation model, same as in Apple. in Steve Jobs' Apple, only one person had the control of the innovation process; in Google apparently no one has it, it seems a bit like trying to see in the dark by tossing ping pong balls and hearing the sounds.

    They DO have one thing in common: no one is tasked of "organizing the process", so the burocracy priesthood, "fill the proper form", " there's no time at the next committee, we have quarterly reports; would june next year suit you?", is nowhere to be seen, or rather is firmly put into place as a service to the cutting edge part, design, production and marketing. The parts of the company that are usually overpowering in a normal organizations are simply not there on a decision making level.

    Incidentally, and I quote "John Kao, an innovation adviser to corporations and governments" has a sysiphean task; It's the existence of these layers that makes the organizations wilt in the face of change, not their inadequacy, so I think his business card in my view should state "lost causes" as a specialty.
  • Re:Not Even Close (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @02:00PM (#38879507)

    makes me think you are either management or you live in a fantasy world where management has tricked you

    This. Perhaps not in this person's case, but I see all the slobbering over Jobs and only one thing occurs to me... he's every manager's dream icon. He knew what people wanted more than anyone else, and everyone else just handled the mechanical details because that's what they're paid to do.

    For years management has been convinced that the people below them are dumb, have no vision, that (s)he is the "real person" that knows what "real people" want. Everyone wants to think they're Jobs, who they think is some guy that pictured the awesome products in entirety, and all the other people just shut up and made it happen the way he wanted.

    Nobody really talks about the people that did the really great work. There's very little mention of Jonathan Ive around the offices of america. They all want to believe that one guy, that imaginary proxy for themselves, knew what to do and everyone just did the dirty work... resulting in many of the worlds most successful products for real people. It's a convenient personal defense for someone that knows they're not actually trained in any real skill... "I have vision".

    I don't buy it for a second, and nobody I know could fill the shoes of that story character.

  • by RevEngr (565050) on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @02:24PM (#38879791)
    There's a subtle thing here that I think often gets lost in discussions of this nature. The fact is that much (most?) innovation is "top-down" in the sense that there is one person holding the entire idea in their head that ultimately drives its attainment. That person might be a team of one, in which case they are just managing themselves, or they might have 20 people reporting to them that they can direct.

    Whether you consider the resulting innovation top-down or bottom-up really depends on the context of that person within their organization. (And if you are in the organization, it depends on your own position in relation to that person).

    Consider a manager in a company like Google who has 20 people reporting to her. Imagine that this manager has a vision of some innovation she believes she can achieve through the work of her 20-strong team, and so she manages the team in an extremely hierarchical and directed way in order to achieve it. She sets goals for individuals, she approves all design decisions, she vetoes any aspect of the project - at any level - that she doesn't like or that don't fit into her vision of how the result should look.

    If the result of this process is ultimately perceived to be some Great Innovation (say, something like Google Maps), then outside observers are very likely to point at this as an example of why "bottom-up" is the best way to get innovation. After all, the manager was low-level, and was operating outside the direct influence of upper management, such that the innovation "emerged" rather than was designed from the top down.

    Yet this same scenario tweaked such that the manager is instead the CEO of a 20 person company suddenly looks like the epitome of "top-down" hierarchy a la Steve Jobs. People will point at the CEO and say that she is controlling and hierarchical. But, again, if the result is good, this will be used as an example for why top-down hierarchies are "good" for innovation.

    I've witnessed this directly in my own career. Several years back, as the lead of a team of ~20 people, I developed "innovative" new products that were not dictated by upper management of my 2000-person employer. It was seen as 'bottom-up' innovation in the organization, even though I was fairly hierarchical with the team and driving them to my vision. No matter, it was 'bottom-up' because I was innovating without being instructed by my bosses. Flash forward to being CEO of a 40+ person company with a ~20 person product/engineering team. The same characteristics that brought me success and the perception of "bottom-up" success at the large company are now perceived as "top-down" and controlling in this organization.

  • by ultramk (470198) <ultramk&pacbell,net> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @04:11PM (#38881153)

    I disagree. The original iPod had excellent battery life compared to equivalent devices. It was also tiny compared to HD-based systems, and had vastly higher capacity compared to the flash systems. The firewire connection ensured that it was quick to charge and load, and let it double as a hot-swappable HD. As far as it being Mac-only... Apple hadn't ever made a Windows device before, and why would they? Nobody really anticipated what a game-changer this would be for the whole industry. The iPod wasn't "developed by an outside company" either. Apple contracted with two different outside companies that had more experience in the consumer electronics area, but that's not the same thing, and much of the work was kept in-house. It's not like when they were just selling Canon printers with an Apple badge on them. ...as far as succeeding because of "who Apple was", in 2001 they were "that company who's going out of business". Everyone knew it. It was just a matter of time.

  • Re:Not Even Close (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @04:43PM (#38881577)

    Don't confuse what I said as a slight against the real man. Clearly he was a brilliant guy that did have remarkable talent. What I'm saying is that it takes the combined vision, experience, skill and determination of a whole lot of talented people to do what Apple has over the last decade.

    I'm also saying that elevating him to god status is a convenient way for managerial types to convince themselves that they're also "visionaries", where everyone around them is holding them back. As you pointed out, nobody is Steve Jobs. But even less-so the Jobs we've made up in veneration.

  • Re:Not Even Close (Score:4, Insightful)

    by doom (14564) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Tuesday January 31, 2012 @04:45PM (#38881593) Homepage Journal

    The present Google operation is so engineer-centric that they're afraid to even decide what color blue they should use [stopdesign.com] without submitting it to the Cloud for arbitration. The point isn't that the Cloud would give you a bad result, but that their internal groupthink is so strong that they can't even tolerate individual decision-making.

    Yes, pity the poor Designer. In the good old days they'd let you push your Brilliant Designs out on the world whenever you wanted. Now they make you prove it isn't going to screw things up with some A/B testing first. Oh, what a world.

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