An innovation fetish

How Apple’s AirPods challenge us to reconsider how we define innovation

I’m sure we all remember the release of Apple’s AirPods.

Let’s take a moment to reflect.

  • First came the removal of the headphone jack debate.
  • Then the concern of them falling out of your ears.
  • And finally the utterly ridiculous siri integration.

They were deemed ‘ridiculous’ and I’d like to say we’ve come a long way since then but there’s still doubters and rightfully so. Some of best critics on the user experience I have come across are highly justified and do nothing but highlight the flaws in them.

Yes, even Apple are vulnerable to these mistakes but let’s not forget the success in the user experience either. AirPods are not innovative. What is innovative about wireless earphones? They are based on technology that is over 100 years old and has always struggled to make an impact in the market.

Yet, the AirPods successfully made that impact. They challenged users existing schemas of wireless earbuds. Not only did they make wearing them enjoyable but good looking too, all in less than a year.

AirPods are sex sticks that fuck your ears. — Chris Messina

Did Apple have some sort of UX wizardry wand? They haven’t tried to make the best or the most innovative set of earphones. In fact, they never have done. Apple is a technology company, not a music company. What Apple has successfully done, is to adopt an existing technology, blow it up with their typically pleasant user experience and then make it shiny.

Time and time again Apple avoid this ‘innovation fetish’ by simply doing what others have done, but better.

the most successful companies in the world focus on nailing iterative execution, not constant reinvention. — Jonathon Courtney

So whilst Apple have consistently improved technology for the greater good we can only look to the future. When we do look to the future of the Apple one can only imagine whats possible. “Apple is a perfect example of a company that prioritises execution over ideas.” Apple are leaders in technology and will continue to develop and improve how products fit into your daily life, even if you don’t notice.

A breath of fresh AirPods

Time and time again Apple avoid this ‘innovation fetish’ by simply doing what others have done, but better. Unfortunately it’s marketed as such but thats a different story all together. The impact of such a small product in the AirPods will be telling come five, ten years from now. When new devices are released and the focus is suddenly placed on the features you can already find in the AirPods, such as voice navigation or touch gestures on the bud itself, Apple will tell you they told you so back when.

Innovation is Overrated: How Execution Can Make Up For an Average Idea

So who am I? I’m here to learn just like you. I’m currently an intern in the user experience team at Bosch Power Tools. This post was inspired by the link above!


An innovation fetish was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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