The Missing Ingredient at Motorola, Nokia? Imagination

By Bob Faulkner  FEB 18, 2010 9:30 AM

Why is it some companies are incapable of creation and can only copy?


There’s an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal discussing the efforts of various computer OEMs to counter the recently introduced Apple (AAPL)  iPad. According to the article, executives at Acer, Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE), et al are at various stages of tweaking, evaluating, and/or analyzing products and the market demand for them.

So what’s wrong with this picture? The same thing that was wrong in the fall of 2008 after the introduction of the iPhone.

Apple may have been the first to put a touchscreen on a cell phone, but other than that there’s nothing in that phone that’s wasn’t available to its competitors with the exception of a little imagination, creativity, and willingness to take a risk. Yet, in the months that followed, the conga line formed of me-too products from a wide variety players. Maybe the only exception to that would be Nokia (NOK) which has still yet to introduce a competitive smartphone more than 18 months after the introduction of the first iPhone.

What is it in the DNA of Motorola (MOT), Sony-Ericsson, Samsung, LG, Nokia and a dozen others that they're incapable of creation and can only copy? Do the bean-counters control the process and thereby stifle risk-taking? If so, what's that saying to investors?

Fast-forward now to the present and we have Mike Abary, a vice president in Sony’s Vaio PC division announcing that, "For us, the iPad launch is a benchmark." I’m sorry Mr. Abary but why are you waiting for your competitor to define a market segment for you? Why is Sony not the benchmark?

There appears to be an acceptance on the part of these companies that the introduction of a product by Apple somehow legitimizes a market segment for consumers. Really? Anybody remember the Newton or Pippen? Maybe it’s just because consumers realize Apple is willing to push the envelope and take risks. Consequently, their products need to be considered, given their track record. They don’t all work, but some do. And when that happens, the playing field shifts in Apple’s direction.

Far too many companies have track records that amount to little more than turning out another bowl of oatmeal. And consumer’s reactions are all to frequently saying, “Been there, done that!”

Get off your butts guys, guys (and girls). You’ve all got the same Legos but you need to start putting them together differently. IBM (IBM) used to publish (maybe they still do) a magazine called Think. Maybe it’s about time to start.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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