Sustaining and Disruptive Technologies

In 1997, the best-selling book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma” Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen came up with two basic categories of technologies: sustaining and disruptive. Christensen in his sequel, “The Innovators Solution” has changed the term disruptive technology to “disruptive innovation” to accentuate that it is not exactly the technology that is disruptive but the strategy of the innovation that leads to disruption.

Read More:  The Innovator’s Dilemma

Sustaining Technologies

Sustaining Technologies is an incremental increase in the features or performance for an established product. Some sustaining technologies can be discontinuous or radical in nature, while others are of incremental nature. They basically rely on improvements along with the dimensions of performance in an already established technology. We can see some significant percentages of the innovations we come across are sustaining innovations. We can consider an example of desktop computers. The significant natures of computers have not changed since its introduction in the late 1970 and early 1980s. What really have changed are the I/O devices like the display unit, keyboard, the type of software used and the speed and ability of the processor. These all are basically the incremental innovations that help in improving the base of the design.

Disruptive Technologies

A Disruptive Technologies in contrast is new and displaces an already run established technologies. These technologies are disruptive as the name suggests enables to think in dimensions that no one would have thought of before. It is basically radically different from the technology that it displaces. A disruptive technology mainly captures the mind’s eye of the market because it brings about a twist in the market which is not there in sustaining technology.

There are fundamentally two varieties of disruptive innovation: one is low end disruptive innovation and the other is new market disruptive innovations.

Sustaining and Disruptive Technologies

  1. Low end disruptive innovation occurs when the products tend to improve at a faster rate than the rate at which the customers can adapt to the new performances. A disruptive technology basically enters a market and provides a product whose performance is lower than its incumbent but surpasses the requirement in certain sectors helping it to gain a foothold in the market. They tend to target consumers who are happy with an acceptable product. Once it has gained a foothold in the market it then it tends to improve on the profit margin. The incumbents will not like to invest much in not so profitable markets and will like to move up and focus on more striking customers. After numerous of such encounters in the market the incumbents are left in the smaller markets which it was previously serving. And finally the disruptive technology forces the established corporation out of the marketplace.
  2. The New Market Disruption occurs when a product is not being served at all by the existing incumbents in the market. In this the main targets are the “non consumers” who currently do not consume the product and the organisations tend to create a new niche market for them. The growth of such markets are often ignored by established companies, once they begin to notice the changes in the market it’s too late as market disruption has already set in.

Having a look at what disruptive technologies are capable of doing in today’s world. Let’s take the example of apple iPad which is a new tablet device as a replacement for the current concept of net book computing. It is believed that the product will help to develop a new era of technology and the responses towards it have been overwhelming till now. From its first look it seems to be a big iPod Touch, it’s until one actually holds it in ones hand, one can’t appreciate what makes it different from the iPhone and the Touch. There is something catchy about the size of the iPad that connects the person in reading, web browsing, playing games, viewing videos and other activities. The iPad is actually sitting between a phone and one of a laptop.

Case Study: iPad Disruptive to Amazon’s Kindle

The outburst of the iPad can be considered as disruptive for many of its competitors. iPad has almost basically killed the Kindle and the net books. The problems with the net books are that they are just the cheaper laptops and are just used as an extra PCs. The iPad on the other hand has a much bigger screen than the net books, it’s much more simpler, can be used as a proper media device and has a battery life for about 10 hours which stands out for Apple. With this the sales of net books have fallen down drastically and have still not recovered.

The main competitor of Apple is the Amazons Kindle. The Kindle has been a great product. Kindle which was the number one selling product on which can be out of the market with the launch of the iPad. Steve Jobs even praised about the Kindle in his launch to the iPad. He stated “Amazon’s done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle. We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further,” with the iPad’s iBook e-reader software.

As soon as Steve Jobs dropped a bombshell, when he announced a 16GB, non 3G iPad, which was priced around $499. It marked the end of the Kindle there and then. It was just $10 more expensive than the top end Kindle DX, which was too much for just an e-book reader. On the other hand the iPad has about 140,000 applications by the fact that it runs iPhone OS. This enables the iPad to do tons of things which the kindle cant like playing games, display photos and videos and even have access to social networks. It can even run all the iPhone application with no modifications at all. They have a web browser by Safari which enables them to have access to millions of pages on the web, which the Kindle is limited to just the newspaper, books, magazines and blog spots.

Apple has taken a direct shot to bring down the Kindle by launching the iBooks, a digital book shelf with number of applications from the high profile publishing partners. Also many books these days are coming up with graphics and certain photos and diagrams. All these features will direct the consumers towards the iPad. Also Apple has announced an impressive list of partners including Penguin, Macmillian, HarperCollins, Simon Schuster and Hachette. They can easily match the kindles books offering which gives 480,000 books, plus magazines, newspaper and blogs. That can also be opened on the iPad because of its Amazon’s Kindle iPhone application which technically will offer the same number of books.

Another advantage that iPad has over kindle is its coloured display. As the bandwidth is getting cheaper by the day, media is shifting towards the visual. Even the New York Times applications have added video and full colour photos in the articles. And a lack of video is a serious problem for Kindle in the times to come. Ability of the Apple iPad touch interface, has the ability to turn pages much more one can do it in the real paperback books. This seems to be really valuable.

It’s time for Amazon needs to keep pace with the competitors and needs to something about the Kindle. As an e-reader the first thing that Amazon needs to do is to add a touch screen to the kindle which will make the Kindle more user- friendly. There is also some information that Amazon has bought a touch screen company- a New York-based start-up Touchco, who are making completely transparent works with a colour LCDs, and can detect “an unlimited number of concurrent touch points that can easily differentiate between a finger and a stylus. There are still a lot of advantages that the Kindle possesses and should try to maintain those in order to survive in the future. One of the main advantages is that the Kindles screen is perfect for reading. Not only for reading indoors but outside in the sun too its’ suitable for reading. Also compared to the iPad where the cheapest device with the 3G will be around $629 and a additional plan of $14.99/month for the data plan, will be too expensive. Meanwhile in the Kindle 3G comes absolutely free, even the smaller version of the Kindle which costs about $259 comes along with a free 3G covering globally.

Another advantage that Kindle has over apple is its battery life. According to Steve Jobs Apple’s iPad has a battery life of about 10 hours which is even better than most of its laptops. Kindle on the other hand gives a battery life which makes it run for an entire week with wireless on and two weeks with wireless off. Consumers who are just interested in books, is an ideal thing for them.

Kindle has to be competitive against other devices as well that can display e-books and do much more along with it. I really don’t believe that Amazon alone by just adding a touch screen to its kindle will compete with all the devices. What Amazon has to do with its upcoming model Kindle 3 is to make sure to increase its sales somehow. They have to add some features that stand out for the Kindle also they should take advantage of the things that the iPad in particular like. They should start implementing multitasking on their Kindle which will make it more user-friendly. It will be a tough task for the Amazons think tank as to what is to be done as they have a tough road ahead of them. Amazon is missing a lot of opportunities even with its MP3 music store. IPad on the other hand is just too way ahead for Amazon. Apple being one of the best innovators in the recent times will make sure that no such competitors are a threat for them. They have a way to make other devices look second rated. Also Apple provides a far more features and is more user-friendly than the rest. Apple till now can be seen as a major threat to Amazon, as almost all the things that a Kindle does is all done by the Apple iPad but in a better way.

What the net books have to do is have a look at iPad’s weakness and make sure their products take advantage of that. They can’t win on media consumption or gaming but they can surely make the net books as a more productive device by having more horsepower. But the future is bleak because the iPad is much more portable than any of the net books and has much more attractive features.

Apple’s IPad has been a disruptive technology and with the increase in demand of the iPad it seems to be a great success. In the first week the sales figures of iPad in the US had reached to about 300,000units which was much more than even the sales for iPhone. And it’s taken just a month for the iPad to reach the 1million figure, with more than 12million applications from Apple’s store and 1.5 million from Apple electronic books. Apple iPad can be seen as a future in the technological world. Having the disruptive features it has entered the market and will totally erode the market leaving little scope for its competitors to grow as it has done with its other products.

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