Saturday, March 26, 2016

Innovation II

Here's some more basic Business 101 stuff about Innovation, and maybe a little blather about what it all means to Canon and Nikon and all those dudes.

This is the first thing:

When something genuinely new turns up as a product, the acceptance of it occurs in very distinct phases. Roughly, we start with a bunch of so-called early adopters who buy it. They're typically enthusiasts who enjoy things that are novel (this applies both to people and to businesses). They may or may not have problems that are different from the mainstream's problem, but they are largely identified by essentially social/personality as entities predisposed to try novel things.

Early adopters often make a lot of noise, but there generally are not enough of them to actually sustain a business.

Then there's a pause. The early adopters are often making a big fuss about the new thing and how great it is, and yet, mysteriously it seems, the new thing is not flying off the shelves. Sales are flat or even dropping, despite the apparent hue and cry. This where innovative companies die. Almost all of them. This is sometimes called "the chasm" but it has other names. It always happens.

Then, finally, sometimes, the mainstream market begins to shift and accept the new thing. Sometimes the unique problems that the early adopters experienced begin to afflict the mainstream, demanding the new solution. Sometimes the mainstream simply gathers itself to move away from the status quo because of the now very obvious benefits of the new thing. And so on. Sales begin to pick up, slowly. After a while, nobody can remember a time when the new thing wasn't ubiquitous.

The mechanisms vary but the pattern is weirdly constant. There's some sort of Central Limit Theorem in here. Early adopters, chasm, mainstream. Then there's some stuff at the end, too, "long tails" and whatnot that we're not concerned with.

This is the second thing:

The major players at any given time are actually not permitted by the market to innovate. Nikon and Canon are constantly innovating, and everything they do is reviled and dismissed. The Nikon 1 was innovation, but conventional wisdom is that it sucked, and that Nikon, having built a D5 that is a very safe evolution from the D4, is simply not innovative. Say what?

The only companies that the market will "allow" to innovate are the new players, which is why Sony is innovative and Canon is not. It hasn't got anything to do with the products they're building.

The Nikon 1 is indeed a useful case to look at. The usual crowd ridiculed it because of one flaw or another. The innovative new company is permitted to roll out almost any kind of wildly limited product, because they are by definition innovative and of course there will be bumps. Sony, Olympus, Fuji, have all rolled out dogs but since they "get it" the dogs are seen as mere evolutionary steps along the way to perfection. Nikon, who doesn't "get it", cannot roll out anything less than perfection. The flaws in the Nikon 1 are proof of Nikon's cluelessness.

And that's not to say the pundits are bad people who have it in for Nikon. This is how it always is for the established players, the pundits in this case are simply following their appointed rounds.

So the standard game plan for the majors is to wait and see. They experiment, they roll out new products, but they don't get fully behind any of the massive flock of Wild New Things. They leave that up to Lytro, to Light, to Sony. These companies are trying out tons of innovation. Most of those innovations will die in The Chasm. Many of those companies will die in The Chasm. A few things will gain traction in the mainstream.

Then the major players, having kept their hand in with the small products they've been rolling out here and there, swoop in and attempt to dominate the now-established market. There are now one or more established "innovative" players who have to be knocked out of the game, so it's harder for the majors to take control.

It's not easy, but at least it's possible. Nikon and Canon actually cannot be that innovative player who ushers in EVFs or whatever to mainstream acceptance. No matter what they do, it's just going to be the Nikon 1 story again. These guys know where they fit in the minds of their customers, and they know perfectly well that if they diverge too far from that the reviews will fall in to lock step "it sucks, they fucked it up." Nikon cannot invent the next new camera paradigm any more than IBM could invent the home computer or Microsoft could invent the web browser.

Step back a few steps and take in the whole mirrorless camera market.

There's been endless fuss, all the pundits have been rolling their eyes about how this is SO OBVIOUSLY the way forward and what's UP with all those old optical viewfinder cameras? (early adopters). This goes on for a while. MILC sales remain mysteriously flat, despite the obviousness of the solution (the chasm). Nikon and Canon are widely reviled for sticking with their horrible optical viewfinder cameras and not jumping on the mirrorless segment despite the fact that they are constantly rolling out mirrorless cameras in various segments.

Today, maaaayyyyyyybe, we're beginning to see actual mainstream acceptance. The very real problems with mirrorless cameras are legitimately being shaken out right about now.

If we see an actual substantial uptick in sales coincident with a substantial corresponding downtick in SLR cameras, then look for Nikon and Canon to start positioning to crush the remaining MILC manufacturers. Sony knows this, obviously, and is without question girding their loins for battle. This may be why they're hurling new models out at such a blistering pace. They need to establish the strongest beachhead possible because D-Day is right around the corner and those fuckers at Nikon and Canon are gonna hit the beach with extreme prejudice, and loaded for bear.


  1. that's a great explanation. Damn.

  2. Thank you. A new perspective on the age long question, why so little innovation from the established players. I don't like taking the blame, but there is sound logic to your article.

  3. Canon might be loaded for bear in the future but since they still shoot blanks at certain things I'll not hold my breath waiting to see that.
    I just unpacked the new Canon Elph 360HS to put on our shelf here at work and the only difference this camera has over the Elph 350HS it's replacing is, get this, manual focus. WTF is Canon thinking?!? Oh sorry, not the only difference as it's $100.00 more for the new model with the exact same image quality and a listed lower battery life.
    Canon may very well have been a leader in digital technology in the past and they may again get that title back but that's certainly not what I see here at the retail level.

    1. That kind of my point. The major players are never allowed to be leaders. They can build the same old stuff and be dumped on for not innovating, or they can innovate and get dumped on for failing. All this has very little to do with the actual products but a lot to do with customer perception.

      What they can do is dominate whatever the new 'same old stuff' is.

      Chevy could never have built a successful electric car until the innovators did it first. Now it's the same boring old stuff, and the Volt is a viable product. Before the Prius, Chevy could have built an electric flying car with a 1000 mile range and a submarine mode, and it would have gone nowhere.

    2. But I thought Chevy killed the electric car.

      I've been selling cameras for 18 years now and even when Canon used to have the "lead" they were a marketing company.
      Want a lens hood with your lens? Buy an L series and it comes with otherwise it's an extra. New camera? Great. No, your old battery won't fit, sorry. (They have gotten much better with that one.
      More than once they changed a model number of a product and nothing under the hood changed.
      A lot of people seem to forget that Canon was the company that kept telling us more megapixels was better than they were the first ones to hit a ceiling and call it good.
      They were also the company leading the new model a year charge for quiet a few years.
      I do like that companies like Fuji, Olympus and Sony will do firmware updated to their cameras that have some use. Canon and Nikon seem to bring out a camera and say "this is what you want." No? Oh well, wait till the next model and we might have something different on it.
      I really don't know what kind of innovation either Nikon or Canon can make that will keep their users happy but I do know that while mirroless sales are "flat", in our store we probably sell about a third more mirrorless cameras than SLRs. I think the trend will keep going that way. Smaller and lighter with good/great quality is a plus for many.

    3. To be honest, we seem to be talking at cross purposes.

      For reference, this isn't the blog where you come to learn that Canon sucks, or that Canon is awesome. I neither know nor care, and there are plenty of other blogs (e.g. every single one of them) where you can learn that. Let me repeat that: I do not know, nor do I care if Canon (or Nikon, or whoever) is awesome, crappy, innovative, stuck in the 1970s, or whatever.

      This is the blog where you come to learn that it, surprisingly, doesn't much matter if Canon is or is not innovative, awesome, crappy, or whatever. The market forces are only loosely related to those things, and are ultimately the driving forces in play here.