Evolution vs Revolution

Around the internet world, or in our little corner of it, there was some disappointment over the lack of game changing innovations at Infocomm. In this article, I'll  throw my two cents into the mix about product evolution and revolution. Being directly involved with a company creating innovative products and a long time veteran of the video conferencing world I have pretty good insight into some of the issues facing new technologies and why we're not seeing them.

 Life needs less buzzwords

Where does innovation come from? Does it come from small companies, large corporations, private research groups or all the above? In my opinion, the best innovations in the past several years have come from Fraunhofer, a research organization. In 2012 and 2013, they had the best that Infocomm had to offer. Their OmniCam-360 which was displayed at Infocomm in 2013 had capabilities that were far ahead of a couple of similar cameras that are for sale today. Sure, their form factor is huge, but the underlying technology and quality of the end experience is unrivaled in the market today.

So why aren't the large video conferencing/pro AV companies creating revolutionary products (by that I mean in reality not what a marketing manager think is revolutionary)? It's rare that a company wants to spends years and dollars on something theoretically revolutionary so we end up seeing incremental improvements as a result. Research and development efforts take time and money. Only the very wealthy or the very motivated can cope with the process. Every now and then we see something that makes us really say "WOW", but it's not happening often, at least in this space. Public companies have to worry about keeping the share holders and the board of directors happy. Small private companies don't have the money, personnel or time. So it ends up being small R&D labs that are creating the products with the wow factor if it gets created at all. These small labs can't necessarily afford the outrageous cost of trade shows, both in dollars and manpower.

This isn't to say that companies like Cisco and Polycom for example lack R&D nor introduce good products. It's quite the opposite and both companies throw millions of dollars at research and development but it makes me wonder how much the true innovators at these companies are hamstrung by corporate policy if the people even exist within the companies at all. Incremental improvements are the norm from established companies and it seems that the real  innovation comes via acquisition.

The sales side of things
Sales is a rough road for new companies with innovative products. First, people tend to shy away from buying products from an unknown company. Crowd funding has made this easier and almost normal in the consumer space, but the enterprise market is lagging way behind. Startups with small teams and low capital almost have to create innovative products because by the time it goes to market the technology is already known by the big guys who have quicker turnaround times on product development (in a general sense).

The marketing side of things
Regardless of any true technical innovations, with every product release the marketing managers and sales people will tell you how innovative their new product is. What's really difficult is marketing a product that is actually innovative. People just don't "get it", even those with years of experience in our field. So the best thing to do is compare the new technology with what's existing, even if you're light years ahead of what is out there. It waters down the true nature of the innovation but if people just don't understand it, it won't sell.

So why is there the perception that there's a lack of really innovative products at trade shows?
  • Companies don't want to show a product that people "don't get". Yet.
  • Companies don't want to show a product that solves problems the customer doesn't know they have (yet). That goes back to marketing against an existing product so the perception is that it's an incremental improvement.
  • Trade shows cost money
  • We spend too much time in the fancy booths with big marketing budgets to acquire swag
  • It's there, you walked right by it.
  • We're too busy taking selfies, live tweeting or looking out for booth babes (and live tweeting our faux outrage). 
  • Incremental improvements still generate lots of sales so there's not need for revolutionary technology.
Trade shows are a big place to get through in just a few hours over the course of a couple of days. There are thousands of products on display. Some times, the best ones aren't the ones you'll easily find in the booths with the biggest marketing budget or largest advertising outreach.

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