How Innovative!

From paper to pencils, the telephone to the television, even birth control pills and microchips — innovation has proven to be a cornerstone of our society’s growth and progress. This week, ‘Time’ magazine unveiled it’s “Best Inventions on 2007” and the winner is…

…the iPhone!

Now before you laugh and say, “The iPhone never did anything for me,” consider this: ‘Time’ writer Lev Grossman suggests Apple’s creation will mean “better, more innovative phones for all” someday. “AT&T gave Apple unprecedented freedom to build the iPhone to its own specifications. Now other phone makers are jealous. They’re demanding the same freedoms,” writes Grossman.

(Here’s video of how Time chooses the list)

Since we can’t seem to live without mobile communications devices, we might all be crediting and thanking Apple someday for birthing a new era of wireless. C’mon, Apple basically jammed a full-sized computer complete with operating system into a tiny little device. And made it touch screen! Of course, the first generation iPhone was more trouble than it was worth for some folks. I, for one, never buy “first gen” technology because I think, generally speaking, it’s too expensive and prone to glitches — think Sony Playstation 3’s first release or Microsoft’s X-Box 360. But I understand you can’t have proven, work-horse technology without that first generation. And, of course, if no one buys the first generation there won’t be a second. The company won’t have the money to advance the technology and it’ll have no user input with which to adapt. So give yourself some credit too. Maybe someday we’ll be Time’s Person of the Year again! But I digress.

On the broad topic of innovation, ‘Time’ shows a timeline of some of the most important inventors in history. The list grows exponentially as the centuries tick on. But that doesn’t erase inventions of the past. Some were built upon and made better like Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press, designed in the 1400’s with no major update until the 19th century. Other discoveries just stick like glue — the scientific theories and principles of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, & Ben Franklin.

When you look at the list of these remarkable figures in history, you notice a common thread. They had to fight for their beliefs — fight the critics, the saboteurs, and sometimes each other. For example, Gutenberg’s venture capitalists sued him for the rights to his press. That was more than 500 years ago! Time has another example of Philo Farnsworth’s fight to patent the television set in early 1900’s. And let’s not forget, more recently, the U.S. Government’s case against Microsoft which centered around innovation and technology. That public fight might be fresh in our heads, but it seems the battles over inventions have been waged forever. And they should be. Yes, you need an idea first. But the competitive spirit really drives innovation. Yet, the timeline portrays Ben Franklin as a selfless inventor who “never patented his ideas so others could build on them.” That’s not very competitive compared to the current litigious climate of protecting intellectual property; someone’s suing someone for something. But it seems it worked for Franklin. And there’s always the exception to the rule.

In the case of Apple and the iPhone, they’re not giving away secrets, but there is a Ben Franklin feel to ’em. As with any new technology, the creator must leave room for future advances, updates, & changes. Grossman writes the iPhone of 2007 is “but the ghost of iPhones to come.” He believes it’s not going anywhere anytime soon: “With all that room to develop and its infinitely updatable, all-software interface, the iPhone is built to evolve. Look at the iPod of six years ago. That monochrome interface! That clunky touchwheel! It looks like something a caveman whittled from a piece of flint using another piece of flint. Now imagine something that’s going to make the iPhone look that primitive. You’ll have one in a few years. It’ll be very cool. And it’ll be even cheaper.” iPhone-inspired. User-approved.

…and one final point of perspective about wireless communication and how we use it. Consider Japan on the cutting edge of technology. Consider, we can’t be far behind. Consider what will become of our computers… when you read what’s happening to theirs.

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