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There is no such thing as a truly new invention

recycling inventions steve jobs innovation cross-pollination

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#1 Hum

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 00:38

Despite what marketers would have us believe, recycling inventions and the cross-pollination of technologies for new applications are at the heart of all developments in the 21st Century.

Rather than waiting for light-bulb moments, true innovators today are looking at other sectors and applying existing technologies in unexpected ways.

Here's an example. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell is famously credited with inventing the telephone.

Many years later, in 2007, Steve Jobs introduced us to the iPhone. Despite all the hype though, the iPhone was not a new invention - it was just a much better telephone than any we'd seen before.

By the time the iPhone hit our shops, we'd already seen plenty of mobile versions of the humble telephone, and smartphones had been around since the 1990s.

The iPhone caused such a stir because it included a few perceived "firsts" - it was commonly regarded as the first touch-screen phone, for example. However, touch-screen technology itself wasn't new - it first appeared in the 1960s, and had actually appeared in other mobile handsets before.

Similarly, when Apple introduced the accelerometer to its mobile handsets, it was widely believed that this was a new technology.

Before the iPhone, accelerometers were already found in vehicles, medical devices, navigation systems and more - but, by applying this technology to their smartphones and aggressively promoting its benefits, Apple changed consumer perceptions of what was possible with a smart phone.

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive - just look at the abundance of popular iPhone apps that have been developed and sold that take advantage of the accelerometer's capabilities.

What Apple achieved with the first iPhone was truly groundbreaking, but it was the result of very clever innovation, with existing technologies applied in new ways. It was not a new invention.

In case there is any doubt, this type of innovation is absolutely a good thing.

It is the reason that the speed of technological progress continues to snowball.

Most industry sectors no longer work in isolation. Instead they learn from each other's successes and mistakes.

Using existing technology and applying it differently can also be a cheaper and easier way to get to market than "re-inventing the wheel".

Not so good, however, is the lack of recognition and awareness of these processes.

Consumers are presented with an "invention illusion", which is really little more than a marketing tool to give the impression of "breakthrough" products. This is a difficult cycle to break, particularly with the media's appetite for sensational stories, and it is hampering opportunities for credible companies without sexy stories.

It also means that many entrepreneurs are looking for innovation in the wrong places and pursuing new product design ineffectively.

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#2 Growled

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 03:57

Steve Jobs really had the knack for reinventing invented objects. We didn't know they could be used that way before then.

#3 carmatic

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 04:20

I dunno but that article seems quite UK-specific, like, in the example of the automotive industry, the Japanese, Germans, Americans and basically everyone else have been including new technology in their vehicles at every opportunity... The article also mentions the iPhone, and a bunch of car manufacturers are already using Apple's 'Eyes Free' Siri intergration ... Hardly a sign of an 'insular' industry?