The perception of disruption

Network effects hasten the rate of innovation. Therefore, the rate of technological change is faster now than it has ever been (at least if my memory of Solow-style exogenous growth models is correct.

This tends to be iterative. Small, continual improvements that improve the efficiency of processes and provide new opportunities for people to achieve their desires.

But, over time, this can be problematic.

Particularly with user perceptions.

The core proposition (and branding) of a product or service will try to remain fairly constant. But feature creep will bloat and complicate.

It is even possible that some innovations will supersede the original benefit in terms of usefulness and relevance, but it gets lost in the perceptions of users since it is only additive to the core proposition.

In order to focus upon the most useful innovations, a disruption is necessary. A break with the past.

Mobile is a good example of this.

Mobiles have evolved at a rapid rate. They got smaller as technological processes improved but then bigger as new features emerged. Cameras, music players and internet connectivity all augmented the core proposition – a device to make calls on, wherever you are.

But the internet has superseded the phone network. Email and social networks (and Skype) sit alongside voice and text, along with the numerous other benefits the mobile internet offers.

And a disruption was needed to make these innovations apparent. Because ownership doesn’t equate to usage.

This disruption was led by the iPhone.

Nokia has tended to lead technological innovations, but Apple repackaged the device. It brought back usability and simplicity, with the mobile internet at the core of the offering.

Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung (NSS) may offer “smartphones” or internet enabled phones. But they are perceived fundamentally differently to the disruptors – Apple, BlackBerry and HTC/Google (ABH).

NSS represents an easy choice – a safe upgrade on something familiar with. The bells and whistles may be a bit shinier, but the phone is basically the same. And behaviour remains similar.

ABH are disruptive. They represent a new type of phone. People will think more carefully about switching. The benefits are framed in what is different or better to their current phone. Once they have invested, this behaviour needs to be justified and so they utilise the functionality. Behaviour changes.

The data from Essential Research’s Brandheld study illustrates this.

Looking purely at those claiming to own a smartphone (we gave them a consumer friendly definition outlining benefits; many wouldn’t know whether their phone allowed third party apps to be developed), there was no real difference in claimed internet use via a computer. ABH owners spend 25 hours a week online; NSS owners spend 24 hours.

But when the data for mobile internet usage is explored, a different story emerges.

  • 65% of ABH smartphone owners access the mobile internet every day; 29% of NSS smartphone owners do so
  • 78% of ABH smartphone owners access the mobile internet at all; 63% of NSS smartphone owners do so

The ABH figures are actually skewed by BlackBerry. 87% of iPhone owners say they use the internet on their phone on a daily basis. They are also far likelier to use services such as games, maps and commerce based services.

Is there hope for the incumbent? I’m not so sure. Clay Shirky noted, with regard to media companies, that there is no incentive to disrupt the core business model. Executives are used to things working successfully in one way, that they will seek to protect this for as long as possible rather than embrace the risk of the new.

Can this be combated? Maybe, but maybe not. It seems to be cyclical. Eventually the disruptor becomes the incumbent, and the process repeats itself.

On a sidenote, as previously mentioned I don’t think the iPad will disrupt the computing space. It is disrupting a market that is nascent; the mobile market was well established before it was disrupted. If anything, I think the iPad will just precipitate touchscreen laptops.

The data I used above was from Brandheld. More information about the project can be found here, and I’ve included a Slideshare presentation below that indicates some of the key findings (Although I worked heavily on the project and analysis, I didn’t write this document. As you can tell. I don’t possess Keynote and I would never include the word “insight” in a presentation)

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jesse_sneed/2383953694/

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