What is innovation? Innovation is the process of failing and taking educated risks to further the company or technology.
Over the past 20 years, corporate innovation has evolved from a powerful differentiator into a vague buzzword. Companies that claim to offer innovative solutions may or may not keep their word, and truly innovative companies have to struggle to prove their uniqueness.
Sometimes, businesses get ambitious and go too far in their quests to innovate. Google Glass famously crashed and burned. Juicero somehow raised more than $120 million to create a $400 juicing machine no one wanted. The people behind the scenes thought they’d discovered the next big thing, only to crash and burn when they finally went to market.
Those two are hardly the only companies with failed attempts at innovation, though. Before you rush out to the patent office for your next great invention, consider these cautionary tales:
1. Facebook Phone
Remember when Facebook aimed to enter the smartphone market? If not, don’t feel too bad. The phone ended up hitting shelves as the HTC First, and while the debut price of $99 sounds like an incredible bargain in 2019, Facebook’s phone dropped to $0.99 one month after its debut.
As much as Facebook touted the revolutionary new technology, the phone’s only differentiator appeared to be its reliance on Facebook Home, a reskinned Android experience, that didn’t meet most people’s expectations of what a phone should be. Unlike Facebook Live or the platform’s Marketplace, this innovation didn’t hit home with consumers.
The lesson? “Be careful following your competitors instead of following your customers,” says John Montgomery, chief design officer at Cie. “Limiting social features on a single phone actually worked against Facebook’s mission of connecting the world.” Don’t promise innovation if you’re slapping a branded experience on existing technology.
Luxury cars have heads-up displays. People who don’t drive luxury cars want those displays, too, right? Navdy thought so, but its $799 in-car displays never found a market. The company closed its doors last year after emailing consumers to let them know that their devices would soon cease to function.
Where did Navdy go wrong? TechCrunch writer and editor Ingrid Lunden chalks it up to a combination of a crowded market and a weak value proposition. “Indeed, for many the jury may still be out on whether a display on your windscreen is less or more distracting than other kinds of displays and interfaces,” she explains.
Before you bring luxury to the masses, remember that luxuries are inherently limited markets. Navdy tried to create its own mapping service to compete with Google Maps and got burned. Don’t make the same mistake.
3. Windows Vista
After the resounding success of Windows XP, Microsoft had the PC market in the palm of its hand. Then, the tech giant released Windows Vista to thunderous applause — applause that quickly turned to outrage.
“It is known as Microsoft’s messiest OS release ever,” notes Zac Bowden, senior editor at Windows Central. “It took a long time to develop, it was buggy at launch, required users to upgrade their hardware to experience the best new features, and was super expensive.”
For everything Windows XP did well, Windows Vista did something poorly. IT professionals loved XP for its security and scalability, while Vista created headaches for everyone on the back end. Users, meanwhile, hated trying to navigate the bugs and breakages the new OS created.
Microsoft has since debuted all sorts of successful innovations, mostly in the business space, but the failure of Vista stands as a warning for all would-be innovators today. Before you follow up on a well-received product, make sure you’re making real improvements — not just changes for change’s sake.
4. Nike+ FuelBand
Not long after Fitbit hit the market, Nike unveiled its own fitness tracker — a device that was supposed to give Nike an easy win in the soon-to-be enormous wearables market. That didn’t happen.
Nike had big celebrity endorsements from stars like LeBron James. Users accumulated Fuel Points to compete with their friends and inspire their personal goals. Everything should have been fine, but while other fitness trackers kept moving, Nike got stuck in a rut of its own making. Despite the fact that it pioneered a currency for exercise tracking, Nike failed to continue developing features or, crucially, Android functionality.
“Considering Nike did such a good job setting the pace, it’s a shame the firm is dropping out now the real race is underway,” wrote freelance technology journalist Chris Smith soon after Nike discontinued the FuelBand. “It seems like such a missed opportunity.”
Nike could have owned the wearables market, but in this case, its innovation didn’t go far enough. Users loved the concept and wanted more, but Nike played it safe when it should’ve claimed the driver’s seat. After Apple backed out of a partnership and made its own Apple Watch, Nike went back to putting its forward-thinking software on others’ hardware.
Even the most agile, well-funded startups and the biggest brands on the market can fail in the wrong circumstances. With a few extra features at the right time, Nike’s fitness tracker could have become the market’s go-to product. Facebook might have found a real niche if it had released a phone with a new value proposition. Instead, these innovations faded, and better ones stole the spotlight — giving all entrepreneurs real food for thought.