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Is Apple’s iPad really all that innovative? And what the answer means for your new products

Is the iPad really innovative?Well it looks like Steve Jobs has done it again. Not only has the iPhone become the largest source of Apple’s revenue, the iPad introduction has blown away most analysts expectations.

But come on – can you really call the iPad inventive? It’s just a tablet PC. After all, hasn’t that already been done to death? And are any of its features new?

  • Tablet format – done before
  • Touchscreen – de rigueur
  • Wifi – hard to find a mobile device without it anymore
  • eBook Reader – already available in a much lighter format on kindle
  • Video capable– aren’t they all?

So is the iPad inventive? Not particularly it seems. But let me ask the question a different way. Is the iPad innovative? My working definition for innovation is the organization-wide process of finding and profitably serving unmet customer needs. Importantly for your new product efforts, this definition doesn’t require that you invent anything. Innovation can be as simple as integrating a bunch of existing technologies into a package (a sleek, sexy package in Apple’s case) that solves an unmet market need and allows you to profit while doing so. So let’s look at the iPad from that perspective.

Can Apple make money with iPad?

Their cost position is good, and they are adding a new revenue source with eBooks as well as more music, videos, and apps buyers for the iTunes store. If they can sell millions beyond the original 300,000 scooped up by early adopters, they should make lots of money.

Does the iPad serve an unmet need?

This is a tough one. It may if your need is to always have the latest new gizmo, but quite honestly, the unmet need isn’t clear to me. That also seems to be what a lot of analysts are saying. But the unmet need for the iPhone wasn’t clear either, and it’s gone on to sell tens of millions of units. Of course, the iPhone entered an existing market that was highly fragmented and had a high switching rate. The closest comparison for the iPad is the netbook market which is highly price driven. And at the other end of the spectrum, will it cannibalize their upmarket MacBook Air?

So while Apple has created yet another sleek, little device, it will be a while yet before we understand if the iPad they also have a magic formula for identifying unmet customer needs that aren’t obvious to the rest of the world – and if they do, that would truly be innovative.

What are your thoughts?

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