Blog Post: The difference between invention and innovation

God bless the Internet and the speed at which venom can be spewed towards tech news.

As Easter weekend was just getting underway, CNET broke a story that involved the Nike FuelBand team being fired and the product line retiring. Since wearable technology is the newest darling amongst tech writers, this was a big deal. One of the original entries in this product category was changing course, and it’s tune.

Rumors spread, and speculation consumed. Just like it always does. For me, however, this was neither a shock or cause for concern. It merely gave credence to the notion that wearables have a long way to go, and companies can’t merely keep trotting out inferior products.

Any product person knows the difference between inventive and innovative products. For something to be inventive, it just has to do something new for consumers. To truly innovate, though, it has to bring a true utility and usefulness.

That’s why Pebble, FuelBand, Shine and FitBit owners enjoy their purchase for a time and then move on. It was inventive to strap a piece of technology to your wrist for a time, but we don’t quite know what to do with it yet.

This is not to say the category doesn’t have it’s defenders. I had a passioinate discussion with a sales rep from AT&T the other day about his Samsung Gear and how useful it was. He purported to save a lot of time by managing his notifications from his wrist, and it made driving a lot safer. Pebble owners at work feel the exact same way. What they don’t realize is for most consumers, until there is a true utility difference between a wearable and a smartphone the product category will go nowhere.

Apple knows this. That’s why they are taking their sweet time on a product offering. They are taking the time to make the software useful and simple. So much so that they met with the FDA to get their blessing. Nike probably knows this, and will most likely have a prominent place in iOS 8 and the Healthbook functionality.

Instead of asking consumers to purchase a product they will discard in a few months, they want a seat at the table for what’s coming next.

Rumors of turmoil on the team and project probably ring true, but if the FuelBand was selling like hotcakes I don’t think the Portland-based monolith would have had any issue making things work.

Om Malik made a great point on Twitter in the aftermath of this announcement. “Nike has a wearable. It’s called a shoe. All they need to do is figure out how connect it to the phone. That’s their unique value proposition.”

It all points to one simple fact: the only wearable device that matters to consumers right now is the smartphone. Until someone figures out a better way to tell the story of my data and notifications in a unique way, more products will go the way of the dodo.

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