July 7, 2013

Jobs on Innovation

Twenty years ago, Steve Jobs described innovation without actually using the word itself.

What really fascinates me about this is the metaphor he uses regarding the technology industry as sediment; layers in a rock. All metaphors break down at some point, but he's right when you think about all the changes that have happened since the first computer was created nearly 70 years ago.

Old Cell PhoneLook at your cell phone. If you are reading this blog, there is a high likelihood that its a smart phone of some kind. Now think back to the phone you had 10 years ago and compare it to the one you had now. To the right, you'll see one of my old phones from 1999. When you compare it to the iPhone that is my current phone, you'll see similarities. There is a screen, an input method, a headphone jack, an ear piece an microphone, a battery and a charging point.

You'll also notice differences. The screen is far smaller, black & white and really terrible resolution. The input method is physical buttons versus touch. The old phone probably sounds better over voice (wait, you can make voice calls with the iPhone???) The old phone is substantially heavier and bulkier.

The old phone has stickers and a strap. <<shudder>>

But you can definitely tell both are phones. They share a lineage. If you had not had that crusty phone from 14 years ago, you would not have the iPhone of today. The old phone probably couldn't even connect to one of our modern cellular networks even if its battery was not unusable at this point in its life. The iPhone's sedimentary layer is built directly on top of the old phone's layer but the iPhone is hiding that old layer from our view.

Teenagers who get their first cell phone today don't remember (and possibly were not even alive) when the old phone was in use. They can't see the old phone because the layer was covered over before they ever knew they wanted a phone for themselves. But that old layer is still there and is necessary for today's visible layer to exist.

It also makes me wonder what the next layer, which hasn't yet been laid down, will look like and how it will relate to today's iPhone. Its coming, and will be here before we know it. I can't wait to see it.