When thinking of innovation, you often think of the next big thing disrupting the market. And likely to disrupt your wallet. In the public eye it may seem that innovation is defined for us by those with the biggest marketing budget. So what is innovation?

The definition of innovation is not always understood. Things we see as innovations are often perfected products, or at least the useful iteration of an innovation. We all know what touch screens are, and they’re not new. After reading up a little on the history of touch screens, commonly know as an innovation of the 2000’s, I found out they were invented in the 1960’s. What we know as the touchscreen is what I like to call the useful iteration of an innovation.

What is the difference between innovating and inventing?

Professional opinion on innovation can vary, from a simple statement of a solution that adds value for customers, to something more complex and specified for a certain organization. I like to view innovation from a consumer’s standpoint.

That feeling when you know you’ve seen it before.

There is sometimes a misconception of whether a product is innovative because we have “seen it before.” Just because you invent, doesn’t mean you innovate. In the case of the touchscreen, invention is the creation of the first touchscreen in the 1960’s. Innovation is the useful iteration of the touchscreen in the 2000’s. So… how come it just became an innovation in the 2000’s? For that answer, we take a look at the iPhone.

I know, the iPhone is a cliché reference for innovation. But take a step back and look at the iPhone as a whole when it came out. It made the touchscreen what it is today. Sure there were touchscreen devices before, but none of them were quite the tech demo iOS, the iPhone’s operating system, was. A tech demo refers to something designed to demonstrate the usefulness of a technology, like Wii Sports demonstrating motion technology on the Wii. iOS on the iPhone demonstrated how a touchscreen was no longer a gimmick to “Oo” and “Ah” at, it became a legitimately easier way to use phones. They didn’t invent the touchscreen. They didn’t invent the phone. But they used the touchscreen to improve the interaction between a user and their phone. When Apple made the iPhone, they made a useful iteration of an innovation.

Defining “Useful Iteration of an Innovation”

Now is a good time to come back to what this means. A useful iteration of an innovation is not the same as a minimal viable product (MVP). A MVP is like a beta, it’s there to test the market and seek improvements for future iterations of the product. But, as the term says, it’s minimal. A useful iteration of an innovation is defined by it’s ability to be accessible and practical. Accessibility is the market’s ability to purchase the product, and practicality is the product’s ability to work as it was meant to. An inaccessible product is too expensive for its market, an impractical product doesn’t work the way it is meant to.

So, what do you think the next useful iteration of an innovation will be?

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