Sunday, April 19, 2009

About Successful Innovation

I really don't want to be the guy that comments on other peoples' works. Frankly, I don't have the energy with all of the good content out there and I'm certainly not writing blog posts to make money (I'm laughing, really).

That said: Great article here on something I've been debating with a few individuals lately.

It points out one of the major difficulties of innovation. Most people believe "Good Enough" is. VHS created the home movie market despite competing Betamax technology that was superior. SVHS which was supposed to be the successor to VHS never took hold because the incremental innovation left people thinking ... VHS is "good enough".
The DVD standard took hold because of improved picture quality, 5.1 audio support and a radical change in format. Moving from magnetic tape to a digital disc format was what killed the audio cassette.

I'm actually surprised at how well Blu Ray has done thus far. As someone who is ... in every way ... a home theatre junkie, I still don't own a Blu-Ray player. The "incremental improvement" simply isn't enough for me. Most movies that I enjoy were recorded in formats that don't look great on DVD, why do I need to see those same movies in 1080P? And frankly, part of it is "principal", I hate AACS and BD+ and won't buy a player until a few years have gone by and they've given up trying to one-up the pirates. I'm not saying the studios will abandon anti-piracy efforts. I'm thinking they'll run into the wall. I expect that many early players will stop playing newer discs properly because of efforts they employ (unsuccessfully) to stop piracy and it'll be safe to buy a player that might play all of my legitimately purchased content.

Frankly, Blu-Ray doesn't offer much over DVD except on the latest titles. Being an audio guy (I love surround sound, I even own a ButtKicker for an immersive experience that only an infrasonic sub-woofer can deliver), I don't even really care about the uncompressed audio. DVD is "Good Enough" at the moment and I'm not shelling out the money for a new player for my HTPC, and a new Home Theatre receiver to decode audio formats I won't notice the difference with.

So it is about innovation. It's easy to take something that has been done and improve on it. Often with computer equipment (faster CPUs, faster GPUs, bigger hard drives), it's important. But to the average Joe, that bigger hard drive was only important when they discovered how to buy music on iTunes or rip their huge audio CD collection. The reason for the purchase of an upgraded computer came from one of two simple situations: "They're so cheep, might as well get rid of this bloated, bogged down PC that probably has a virus." or "This new PC can do things I (perceive) that I need that my current system cannot handle". Often new PCs were purchased immediately after they subscribed to broadband service. The old unit just couldn't handle the new experience.

So on innovation ... It seems the pattern is that incremental improvement will gain a small following ... revolution will gain a complete turnover. We've witnessed this with broadband plus improvements and reduction in prices of PCs, analog VHS magnetic tape to an all digital, reliable, slower degrading, convenient disc format plus commodity players, analog proprietary PBXes to VoIP on somewhat less proprietary all digital formats that include voice, and teleconferencing while keeping your phone calls on your data network eliminating long distance and international per minute charges.

Part of my job is writing software for unified communications, integrating communication into line of business applications and developing new applications that find ways to exploit the features that UC makes available. When I tell people the way my organization communicates and operates they look at me like I'm part of a Jetson's cartoon. We have an office that has headsets rather than phones. I don't know the phone number of anyone in my company because I just double-click their name when I want to talk to them. We communicate via IM more than e-mail or voice and when we make a call, we know if the other person is going to be interrupted and can decide to "flag" that person for notifications the next time they're free (think about making a call and rarely interrupting the person you're calling ...)
If we're meeting regarding a troubleshooting session, a document or a proposal, the click of a button enables immediate desktop sharing.
I can drag and drop an employee into a conference, they can choose to join it via their mobile phone or their headset or ignore me entirely. We communicate face to face despite being hundreds of miles apart (and it makes a huge difference).
I can click a button on my mobile phone and have my company connect me to a guy I work with in the UK without having to dial internationally.
A visitor can walk into our facility, type in their name and who they are coming to see using a touch screen interface and actually talk to the other employee who can "see" the visitor via a video channel, approve the visit, and have a temporary visitation badge printed that will also sign them out at the end of the day. If the employee is in a meeting, they can conduct the entire session via IM, or via their mobile phone.
I can do all of this with the same quality of experience if I'm in the office or at an access point at the coffee shop up the road.

I'm not hyping my company (this is my personal blog) nor am I going to talk up our vendor (this is my personal blog). But that's revolution. I don't know if our vendor is going to be the technology choice for the next several generations, but I know when you combine the cost of gasoline, the need for real efficiency in the workplace and the cost savings of eliminating legacy PBXes and POTS lines ... at least at the business level, this is where the world is headed. I don't see my dad buying into a solution like this quite yet, but who knows?

Anyone want to count how many different ways I wrote Bluray?

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