Here’s a contrasting tale of two Apple products that struck me recently. Wired Magazine carried a story about Apple’s 1983 design for an ‘iTablet’ here. Twenty-seven years later and the iPad is finally launched. In 1989, Apple did start developing the Apple Newton, an early personal digital assistant. Despite brilliant, breakthrough functionality, the Newton was canned in 1998, following a prolonged commercial flop.
Premature genius and the art of timing
Premature genius is one of the most overlooked challenges of product development. To visualise the problem, think of a change curve. Launch too early and no amount of marketing and development spend will get you to take off. Launch too late and you may not catch up with competitors.
There’s an important nuance in the story about the Apple Newton. It may have seemed like a failure. But, an ex-Apple staffer tells me that there’s a direct line of sight between the technical and human lessons which Apple learned on the Newton and the huge success of iPod and iPhone. No Newton, no iPod, no iPhone.
Three key disciplines for perfect launch timing
New product development needs to be framed in the present and future. There are three key disciplines for achieving that:
- Trend analysis. Create private foresight out of public knowledge by identifying precisely what trends affect your product idea and understanding exactly where you are on the change curve.
- Invest in corporate memory of rejected ideas and failed products. Put in place structured PRINCE2 style lessons learned documentation. Put old concepts on ice and review them regularly.
- Identify the modular“components” of innovation be it an insight into customer needs, a process or technology. An entire concept may not have worked, but many of its building blocks could be entirely sound.