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iPad’s Climb Up the Disruptive Innovation Cycle

Blockbuster’s recent bankruptcy filing was yet another chapter in the Clayton Christensen annals of disruptive innovation. A major brand with convenient locations that got disrupted by a website and the U.S. Mail. Note that we’re seeing the backend of the disruption, when it all seems so clear.

How easy is it to see such a disruption beforehand? “Not very” would be the honest answer. What distinguishes a truly disruptive technology or business model from a flash-in-the-pan idea? Keep in mind the basis of a disruptive innovation:

A technology initially addressing low-end market needs that slowly moves upstream as its capabilities evolve.

From that perspective, think of all the things out there that have stayed low level and did not disrupt industries. Disruptive innovation is like a Category 5 hurricane: powerful, slow-moving and rare.

Which brings me to the Apple iPad. Are we witnessing a disruptive tropical depression?

DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION LADDER

The graphic below (via wikipedia reproduced on the TouchDraw iPad app) describes the levels of usage for disruptive technologies.

Disruptive Innovation Cycle

The target of the iPad here is the global laptop market. In that context, the beautiful, sublime, innovative iPad is solidly…in the low quality usage band of the chart above.

What represents the iPad’s “low quality use”?

  • Email
  • Surfing the web
  • Facebooking
  • Tweeting
  • Playing music

“Low quality” is not a pejorative term here. It’s a reflection of the computing power needed for the listed activities. This is the iPad’s entre into the laptop market. Consider how much of your own digital activity is covered by those items listed above. IPad already offers a great experience here.

Indeed, the Best Buy CMO recently confirmed the iPad’s move into this end of the market.

MEDIUM QUALITY USE

When you see those low quality uses, they’re primarily consumption oriented. If they are production oriented, they’re pretty basic. But there are things that can be done at the next level, medium quality use.

Games are well done on the iPad. They take advantage of the touch aspect of the device. In my opinion, games on the iPad are quickly moving up the quality ladder.

For the office, there are Apple’s apps. The Pages word processing app looks like a winner. For document production, Pages appears to fill the bill. Especially without a Microsoft Word app on the iPad. The other major office apps – spreadsheets and presentations – are available as well.

I really like the graphics program TouchDraw on the iPad. You can create very nice graphics, for business use, with just your finger. The simple graphic above was done with TouchDraw.

While I couldn’t possibly survey all apps that address different activities, I get the sense that a number of them qualify for medium or high quality uses. The question is the breadth of apps addressing the “power use cases” of laptop owners.

Finally, a word about the keyboard. I love it. I find it very easy to type out this post. It’s not without its imperfections, but generally I’m flying around it as I type. One disclaimer: I hunt-n-peck to type. I’ve never learned real typing.

GAPS THAT NEED TO BE CLOSED

In my experimenting to see how much I could do with an iPad instead of a laptop, I’ve found several areas that need to be shored up to move the overall experience to the medium quality use level.

Safari usage: Safari is the browser used for the web on the iPad. It is surprising how many sites aren’t built for usage via Safari. For example, wordpress.com, surprisingly in my view, doesn’t work well with Safari. Google Docs? Similar issue. Doesn’t work well, or at all, with Safari. I’m embedding HTML tags in this post-by-email blog post.

I cannot accept an event into my Google Calendar via Safari. I cannot create a WebEx meeting from Safari, and the WebEx iPad app doesn’t allow you to create an event. In short, doing business via iPad is tough.

As the iPad continues to gain market share, expect better support by websites for Safari. Which will dramatically improve the end user experience with the iPad.

Graphics uploads: Want to add a graphic to a document, presentation, wiki, blog or email? Hard to do. We’re used to having graphics on our local drive, and a simple button to upload/embed that graphic.

Where’s my master upload button on the iPad?!!

Answer: there isn’t one. The graphic above is one that I emailed to Flickr, grabbed the embed code and pasted it into this post. Which works fine for publicly accessible graphics. But not so much in the work context.

I’d like to see the native Photos app become a universal location for accessing graphics in any app.

Stuff at my fingertips: The ability to easily click around different apps on the PC tray at the bottom of my screen, and to click quickly among different websites via tabs, is a great productivity benefit. If you’re like me, you’re zipping around easily.

With iPad, it’s slower going back-n-forth. A lot of clicking the home button to get to other apps, or clicking the button on Safari to view other sites. Which is a pain, reducing the pace of work.

iPAD’S INEVITABLE CLIMB UP THE DISRUPTION CYCLE

So the iPad is still fundamentally in the low quality usage band, but with some clear indications of moving up. I’ve taken to using my iPad for my non-work hours computing needs.

My full expectation is that slowly, but surely, Apple and the third party app developers will improve the utility of the iPad experience. It will take some time.

But the key observation is this: Apple has the time to enhance the iPad. Two points:

That’s why I expect iPad to get better over time: market momentum. How about you? Are you thinking the iPad, and even the new crop of competitor tablets, will disrupt the laptop industry?

Sent from my iPad

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Tide Basic Detergent. Is this Innovation?

Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

Adam Hartung, Managing Partner of Spark Partners, a strategy and transformation consultancy, asked this question on LinkedIn:

Do you think “Tide Basic,” a less-good formulation, is an innovation? Isn’t innovation about making things better and cheaper, not just cheaper?

The genesis of the question is a story in the Wall Street Journal describing why P&G recently rolled out Tide Basic. Tide Basic “lacks some of the cleaning capabilities of the iconic brand — and costs about 20% less.” As the article notes, Tide’s historic posture is to improve the laundry detergent continuously. It gets better every year. And the price does go up as well. The decision to go down-market didn’t come easily.

Much of this is reminiscent of Clayton Christensen’s analysis of the steel industry. In that story, low-cost mini mills ultimately led to the demise of the big, integrated steel mills.

Reflecting on that, here’s how I answered Adam’s question on LinkedIn:

Conceptually, going simpler on something *could* be an innovation. Clayton Christensen’s mini steel mills were the catalyst for disrupting the steel industry in the 1970s and 80s. The innovation was decoupling the low cost, simple steel from the integrated high end. It enabled quality customers wanted at much lower prices.

A lower cost, less featured Tide sounds similar, doesn’t it? A difference here is that there’s nothing new in the manufacturing process for Tide Basic. Remove the more expensive ingredients, change packaging, sell for less. Nothing wrong with that either. It addresses the needs of a segment of the market. I consider it smart business.

A key difference between Tide Basic and the mini steel mills is that the mini mills recast the economics of the industry. At the low-end initially, then upmarket as well. Tide Basic doesn’t recast the economics of the industry. There’s still a linear relationship between the ingredients put in the detergent, and the price and performance of the detergent. The mini mills caused a fundamental shift in the pricing of steel.

That was their innovation.

How about you? What do you think?

Conceptually, going simpler on something *could* be an innovation. Clayton Christensen’s mini steel mills were the catalyst for disrupting the steel industry in the 1970s and 80s. The innovation was decoupling the low cost, simple steel from the integrated high end. It enabled quality customers wanted at much lower prices.

A lower cost, less featured Tide sounds similar, doesn’t it? A difference here is that there’s nothing new in the manufacturing process for Tide Basic. Remove the more expensive ingredients, change packaging, sell for less. Nothing wrong with that either. It addresses the needs of a segment of the market. I consider it smart business.

A key difference between Tide Basic and the mini steel mills is that the mini mills recast the economics of the industry. At the low-end initially, then upmarket as well. Tide Basic doesn’t recast the economics of the industry. There’s still a linear relationship between the ingredients put in the detergent, and the price and performance of the detergent. The mini mills caused a fundamental shift in the pricing of steel.

That was their innovation.

Google and Microsoft now driving SaaS’s disruptive innovation

Google Chrome OS and Microsoft Office 2010As incumbent companies go through their own versions of Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation, I imagine early observations about the changes-to-come are similar to these seen last week with Google’s Chrome OS announcement

Item #1:

But while I’m sure Chrome OS will pick up some fans, I have a hard time seeing this as the way of the future for computing.

Nick Mediati, PC World, Is Chrome OS The Future Of Computing? I Hope Not.

Item #2:

It’s certainly interesting and ambitious to state that the entire application platform will consist of web apps. If anyone was going to build such an OS, it’d be Google. Much of the initial commentary regarding Chrome OS has been wholly positive, but one common note of skepticism has been with regard to the “web apps are the only apps” aspect, with the frequent point of comparison being to the 1.0 release of the iPhone OS.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball, Putting What Little We Actually Know About Chrome OS Into Context

Item #3:

Netbooks may be important, but they remain a tiny part of the world’s PC sales. Google’s bet is predicated on strong demand for weak computers.

Google is counting on users of small computers not being tied to specific applications and being willing to accept low cost and, perhaps, ease of use over a more familiar and more powerful environment.

Nick Coursey, PC World, Five Reasons Google Chrome OS Will Fail

The quotes above reflect a rationale perspective on the fate of netbooks and an-all SaaS computing experience. After all, no one does that today. Most people haven’t even looked at the web-only alternatives out there. Microsoft Office is a client app. Adobe is a client app. File directories are client apps for files on your hard drive.

Why does anyone need a web-app only experience? Well, note Microsoft’s announcement of its web-based Office 2010. Something is afoot. Both Google and Microsoft are pushing forward significant initiatives that will increase the percentage of computing done via SaaS. What does Clayton Christensen’s theory say about this?

Disruptive Innovation

A disruptive innovation is one that upends the existing structure of an industry, often sending incumbents into niche positions, and niche players into incumbent positions. Three qualities define it:

  • New technologies start out less functional than existing technology
  • New technologies find their niche markets
  • At the outset, it’s really hard to believe the new technology will ever displace the incumbents

Pretty much sums up the idea of all web-based computing.

Check out the chart below, which diagrams sustaining and innovation over time and performance:

Disruptive Innovation Graph

Probably the single most important thing to note about this graph is that the incumbent companies (blue line)  continually add features to their products. This effort expands their addressable markets, as more and more niche segments are covered. It’s a rationale, smart way to grow.

But at some point, the incumbents’ innovations overshoot what mainstream users need. As Christensen notes, performance exceeds what customers can utilize. This is what happens as companies expand into niche markets.

Which brings us to the PCs of today. They are marvels, providing a slick experience for users and able to accommodate a host of new applications. But if I were a betting man, I’d say the most common activities people do with their computers are:

  • Surf the web, engage in social media
  • Email
  • Write documents
  • Build spreadsheets
  • Create presentations
  • Consume and work with media (video, music, graphics)
  • Use web-based business apps

Among those activities, what’s the magic of client-based computing? The media-related activities perhaps require the horsepower of a client app. But even those are getting better with web apps.

Web-based apps fulfill the first bullet of early disruptive innovation above – they’re not as full-featured.

Second bullet is the initial niche that wants to use the less powerful alternative to incumbents. For web-based computing, I can see two markets:

  1. Small businesses – lower cost, less hassle than installed apps
  2. Students – more comfortable with third parties holding data, low cost, activities are mostly writing and web access

Those are the initial toeholds into the operating system market. Getting significant share in a couple segments is critical to getting the attention of application developers.

The Web Apps Are Coming Along

Let’s start with the apps most commonly used in work contexts: documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Zoho has been at it for a while now, and provides a very functional set of apps. Google Docs continue to evolve toward better functionality. And of course Microsoft has joined the SaaS movement. The TechCrunch article about Microsoft Office 2010 notes:

Most certainly a direct challenge to Google Apps, Microsoft is rolling out lightweight, FREE, Web browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. All based in the cloud, the web-based versions of these products have less features than their desktop cousins but still let users that users basic tools to edit and change documents.

Already inside the enterprise, wikis are quite functional. As alternatives to writing up documents and emailing them around, they are quite powerful. Atlassian Confluence, Socialtext, JSPwiki and others are highly functional. They offer a formatting experience similar to the most commonly used functions of document applications.

And for graphics, a new company Aviary got a great review in NetworkWorld:

It’s true that there are a number of graphics editors online, but most fail to come anywhere close to the functionality of Adobe’s iconic software. Until now.

The ecosystem to provide online apps with functionality comparable to client apps is growing.

My Personal Evolution to SaaS

I’m a former banker, then I did product management at eFinance and Pay By Touch. In those jobs, I never bothered with hosted apps. I certainly never thought about wikis. I did my writing in Microsoft Word. At Pay By Touch, I was introduced to the Confluence wiki. I used it because engineering wanted me to, but only as a centralized document repository. I’d rather have emailed the documents around.

It was at Connectbeam that I started to really *get* wikis. The ease of writing on them. The value of a common place to find and share documents. I found the core rich text editing functions of a wiki to be quite sufficient for what I need.

Now you can’t get me off the wiki.

When I was noodling on a business idea 18 months ago, I wrote everything up on Google Docs. It was an easy way to share the documents while updating them as often as I needed to.

More recently, the client applications TweetDeck and Seesmic have been getting a lot of attention. I’ve resisted them, because I just can’t see downloading and running these apps. They take their toll on your PC, as Louis Gray wrote:

For those Web-addicted souls who spend a good deal of their day buried in Twitter, seeing their friends updates and exchanging conversations, most software options have required the installation of Adobe AIR software, which to date has whirred your CPU to life, turning on laptop fans, and chewing through memory. The work to throttle down load on RAM and CPU is a constant battle, which both Loic’s team and Iain Dodsworth of TweetDeck have been working on since their products debuted.

In contrast, logging into the new Web version of Seesmic doesn’t feel like you’ve sacrificed your computer power to get your Twitter fix, and you don’t give up features either.

In short, whenever I can make a move to web-based apps, I’m doing it. I’ve come a long way from my Bank of America days.

Google Chrome OS and Microsoft Office 2010 – Forever Changing the Game

Certainly the idea of PCs as basic on-ramps for doing work via the web has been around for a long time. In 1996, Larry Ellison believed that network computers would outsell conventional PCs by 2000. Well, we see how that turned out.

In 2009, things have changed remarkably. First, usage of SaaS for applications has grown significantly, although it’s still small as a percentage overall. Second, people’s comfort with web-based computing has grown tremendously. Most enterprise software is now delivered as a web application. Salesforce has been a tremendous trailblazer here. And Facebook is fostering a greater comfort with sensitive data held by a third party.

Finally, Google is a titan. Oracle was (and still is), but in 1996 it was the database company. No one knew what to make of its network computers. Google is an entirely different animal. It has established credibility with its Google Apps. And presumably, any web app will work well on the Google Chrome OS. Including Microsoft’s new cloud Office offering.

This doesn’t stop Microsoft from coming out with its own web-based OS. Expect that if the Chrome OS seriously threatens. A lower cost OS for low-cost PCs to use low-cost web apps.

Microsoft’s announcement is huge because the Office suite is a brand used and trusted by millions of people. With their marketing heft, this is a significant boost in the credibility of SaaS computing. Microsoft also is a student of history, and clearly doesn’t want to risk the marginalization seen in Clayton Christensen’s studies of disruptive innovation.

The past two weeks have seen two significant milestones on the SaaS front.

This brings me to my final point. Market transitions don’t happen that quickly. The Google and Microsoft offerings won’t be ready for a while. And existing hardware, software and habits are going to change overnight. We will still have client-based applications for quite a while.

But let’s see how the small business and student markets take to these efforts.

Yelp Is Putting Zagat into the “Innovator’s Dilemma” Headlock

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, author Clayton Christensen describes how new technologies emerge to take over markets. Initially, companies roll out products that serve the low-end of the market. They offer something cheaper and less functional than the product that currently dominates a market.

After establishing a toehold in a niche, a company expands the capabilities of its product until its features start to “bump up” against those of the incumbent vendors. The incumbents, the original “innovators”, find themselves fighting at the lower margin end of their business. Tired of spending resources to protect low margin sales, they take themselves further up the functionality ladder, where they can charge a premium.

Eventually, they run out of room at the top of the market. And the scrappy, less functional competitor has taken over the remaining market. This is shown graphically below:

In the recent New York Times article, How Many Reviewers Should Be in the Kitchen, Randall Stross looks at how Yelp is eating away at Zagat’s business model. Zagat publishes the very successful Zagat Guides. Zagat’s reviewers give the low-down on restaurants in cities around the world: price, quality, service.

I remember from my banking days that these were hit. And they cost money as well. Zagat has done well charging for their guides.

Yelp is the Web 2.0 site where everyday people rate their experiences with all sorts of services, restaurants included. Typical of these user-generated content sites, the quality of Yelp reviews was uneven early on. But it was a quick way to see what someone thought of a place before you went.

Well Yelp has gotten bigger and better. The site now has an army of reviewers. And power users with a flair for good reviews earn Yelp Elite status (my brother-in-law is one of them).

Yelp started out pretty low-end, as most Web 2.0 companies do. But it appears that Yelp is now migrating upmarket in terms of quality. It’s starting to bump up against market leader Zagat.

Here’s how Stross describes it in the New York Times:

Fortunately, the sites that welcome customer reviews have evolved significantly. One of the best, Yelp, has replaced the cult of the anonymous amateur with a design that highlights the judgments of the exceptional few. These dedicated reviewers produce work that, in quantity and quality, increasingly approaches that of their professional forebears, and they are willing to divulge personal information about themselves.

Because of Zagat’s 30-year history of subscriptions, the company’s mindset is one of actually making money via subscriptions, and that has served it well. The reluctance to give up something that’s generating real sales with real profits is understandable, but risks Zagat losing market share.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but there’s enough history where companies that you might have said, “Oh, they’ll never overtake so-an-so” end up doing just that. It’s not an overnight thing, it takes years. But it’s a real phenomenon.

Michelin Guides next?

*****

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