Tag Archives: innovation

Enabling Innovations: human-machine interfacing

Recently, a few really interesting products have seen the light of day and they appear to indicate a pattern in a particular space, in this case medical sensor/measuring/visualisation equipment in the medical space. But the market disruption caused by these products is much broader than that.

Late 2010 David Albert introduced a cheap ECG system using simple sensors built in to a shell around an iPhone. He originally presented the system via a video which got an awful lot of attention really fast. One article I spotted about it was Your Heartbeat on an iPhone but as it wasn’t an actually available product yet (for either development or general use) I thought I’d better wait and see whether this stuff actually got to market. A year and a half later the system is not yet available for use with humans (no FDA approval so far), but there is a $199 model for use in veterinary environments (AliveCor Vet). I presume that apart from the FDA approval it’s actually identical ;-)

This morning, I received a Neurosky MineWave (EEG sensor) headset in the post. See the Brain Interfacing – Finally post on my personal blog for some initial fun with it. For $150 you now get the basis capabilities of EEG at home. And not only that, you can build new applications and uses using the input stream, including controlling devices and games.

Both of these products are examples of enabling innovations. We all know that the price of things comes down over time, but what we often don’t realise is that at certain points, because of key components also becoming much cheaper, smaller, lighter, etc, things that were previously restricted to hospitals, laboratories and other expensive and specialised environments suddenly become available to “the masses”. I’m not saying that everybody will be using these things, nor that specialised expertise in the area is now obsolete – but for many simple tasks these tools are absolutely sufficient and thus a real enabler. It fundamentally changes the market (that previously only contained expensive equipment for a very limited audience). If companies in this realm don’t realise this (or reckon that because it used to be medical and sophisticated specialised equipment their market won’t change at all), they’re going to be sadly sorry really quickly.

In addition to people with simple needs no longer needing a referral to a facility with the expensive gear (low end disruption: in this case, the issue can be handled directly by a doctor without referral), new things become possible (new market disruption: in this case, at home with self-monitoring – and completely new uses of the technology). As always, I see the latter as a much more interesting space as that’s where the true innovation tends to happen. Low-end disruption is still relevant, however, as it directly affects the existing players in the market and it’s just interesting to watch whether and how companies handle this. Generally they don’t handle it, or much too late and then very badly, but I’m always willing to be surprised!

If you have more information on the adoption of these particular products, or other enabling innovations you’ve spotted, please do write in.

Related Posts:

Libraries: Where It All Went Wrong – Nat Torkington

Related Posts:

Innovation Starvation – Neal Stephenson

Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson has published an article on “Innovation Starvation” at the World Policy Institute (WPI). Well worth the read, it’s about vision, taking risks, the negative aspects of having instant access to information (it can kill innovation), and “getting big stuff done”.

Related Posts:

What People Actually Buy

People don’t actually buy a product. And the marketing notion of “solutions” is not really something customers buy in to, either – it’s closer to the truth, but an over-simplification that can distract you from what it’s actually about.

When you purchase a cup of coffee, you’re buying a caffeine shot, or a bit of pastime, or an enjoyable moment chatting with friends – or a combination thereof.

When you purchase a car, you buy the ability to get from A to B with some additional requirements/benefits, it may serve as a status symbol, and so on.

It’s about purpose, the difference between the means and the goal. When product developers and companies forget this, both their product and their communications go weird. And when community advocates don’t keep this in mind, they won’t understand client behaviour.

Take someone on their way to work who is going to get stuck in morning traffic. They might buy a cup of coffee, but a hot drink can be dangerous in a car. They could get a croissant or other pastry, but that can get grease and crumbs over the business attire. So they might instead go for a milkshake – it’ll have a cover and a straw, and takes a fair while to drink. It satisfies the objective: pastime. That’s what that person is actually buying.

I think it’s a neat example because it shows that for this market, coffee, pastries and milkshakes are actually direct competitors and the specific “features” for selecting one or the other are not at all what you might otherwise expect. For instance, it’s not primarily about the quality of the coffee: this buyer group has dismissed the coffee option well before even getting to that consideration, so making improving the coffee quality is not going to make them change their mind. Good to know!

I’m writing about this today because I’m seeing so many articles and blog posts about Apple after the passing of its co-founder Steve Jobs. There are lots of technological (hardware and software engineering) and business ideological (licensing) aspects so Apple is very interesting to review in this way, and much can be learnt from it.

But it’s really very important to realise that when someone purchases an iPhone, they’re buying productivity, status, ease-of-use-through-familiarity, easy integration with other hardware, and so on. Similar analysis can be done for the iPad and Mac laptops/desktops.

It’s definitely possible to point to other hardware and prove that it’s better, and to another software environment and prove that it provides more freedom. But if “better hardware” and “software freedom” are not high on the consumer’s list of requirements, even winning that argument wouldn’t make a difference to their behaviour.

If you were intent on having them care for either or both of those things, then you need focus on that prerequisite first. In a nutshell, “better” or even “fit for purpose” is relative to the objective, and it’s not at all about speed and features and quality. For some those things can be a factor, but you need to figure that out and chances are it ranks lower than other issues. Someone’s reason for choosing Windows or OSX “over Linux” is not the same as your reason for choosing Linux over Windows and OSX.

Years ago I purchased a MacBook. I’ve written about this before, what I was actually buying then was the ability to suspend/resume reliably, and have working wifi on my laptop. It was something Linux didn’t offer me at the time – that’s sorted now and I now actually run Linux on my old MacBook hardware. My next laptop won’t be an Apple, or at least not for the purpose of running OSX. I like free (as in open) software, but I also have work to do. So every time it comes up, I have to make a pragmatic choice.

At many tech conferences, including those in the Open Source space, you will see a huge number of MacBooks. If you want to know why those people bought them, ask. You’ll find it most educational. Just make sure it’s not perceived as an attack of their choice or ethics or whatever, because chances are you’re not the first to ask and there have been others with an agenda.

If you want to potentially convince people to buy different stuff, you really need to first understand why they’re currently purchasing the things they are. Don’t presume. Then either find or create a product that matches their specified needs better, or come up with a need that will rank higher but hasn’t previously been applied.

Yes, that’s what Apple has done under Steve Jobs’ leadership. And whatever you may think of the hardware, software, marketplace and licensing, I regard it as a great accomplishment in product development and marketing. I appreciate that that doesn’t rank highly from a tech perspective, but I do believe it’s not only worthy of respect but definitely worthwhile understanding.

If you are active in this field either developing products or in the community, and don’t yet understand that Apple didn’t just create another computer, walkman and phone, do learn about this as it’s essential to what you’re trying to do. It’s not about then copying that, but about understanding how it works.

Related Posts:

Why You Can’t Buy Creativity – The 99 Percent

Related Posts: