Top 10 world-changing innovations

By Tim Loo @timothyloo

Top 10 lists are always great for sparking discussion and disagreement, and no ten-year anniversary would be complete without one.

So, here’s my, highly personal and subjective, list of the most significant innovations which have meaningfully changed the expectations and behaviours of people, business and society (note: there’s a bit of a UK bias especially in terms of launch date).

Let the countdown commence…

10. Skype (2003)

A bit of a personal one to kick things off. When I moved from Sydney to London in 1999 the excitement of my new adventure was tempered by the distance from family and closest friends. Skype VOIP calls made constant international communication easy and affordable (i.e. free).

But it was the introduction of Skype video calls in 2006 which really transformed communications for me personally and professionally. From introducing my newborn daughter to her grandparents in Sydney and Jakarta, to debriefing a global project simultaneously from our consultants in Hong Kong, Dubai and Madrid, or conducting weekly team meetings between our two UK offices, Skype has genuinely brought me closer to my family, friends and colleagues.

Missing in action: unnecessary travel, astronomically expensive video conference kit, excuses not to talk to mum face-to-face.

9. BBC iPlayer (2007)

BBC iPlayer (read other on-demand TV equivalents in your region e.g. Hulu in the US) and its commercial peers has changed the viewing habits and patterns of UK TV viewers and unlocked value from the huge content archive.

The overarching vision for the BBC’s coverage of London 2012 was simple: “Never miss a moment”. It’s this powerful thought which has brought cohesion to the role of iPlayer and digital media in the whole broadcast mix and created a new entertainment mind-set. It’s also a wonderful example of user experience strategy and execution in action.

Key moment: The London 2012 Olympic Games watched by 55 million global viewers and 37 million UK viewers online.

8. YouTube (2005)

The arrival of YouTube looked to be the dawn of user-generated content and fostered a generation of mass creativity creating the next breed of Tarantinos and Scorseses. In reality, it has accelerated the shortening of attention spans (a sub MTV generation if you will), established the incredible benchmark speed of viral sharing, and embedded the expectation that online is the first portal of call for anything I want to see, from breaking events to South Korean rappers. Google’s purchase of YouTube for $1.65 billion in October 2006 now seems quite clever.

Key stat: In May 2007, “Charlie bit my finger” is uploaded, goes on to be viewed 450 million times.

7. Twitter (2006)

It’s amazing to think that the concept of tweeting is only a few years old. It’s impossible to watch any major event to the opening of an envelope without a hash tag, and where would the 24 hour news channels be without a twitter feed and trending stats?

It has redefined how individuals and organisations (political parties, companies, the media, interest groups) broadcast information and engage. It’s created a customer servicing escalation channel for complaints; a tactic which has forced businesses to create processes to handle. To quote Pete: “In digital everyone can hear you scream! (#badservice).

It’s also reinforced Godwins Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1” and made global thought-leaders out of Ashton Kutcher and Joey Barton.

Key stat: In 2012, Twitter is expected to sell $129.7 million in mobile advertising (compared to Facebook’s $72.7 million of mobile ads).

6. 8MB ADSL Broadband (2006)

Average download time in 2002: “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen – 3 hours
Average download time in 2012: “Wrecking Ball” by Bruce Springsteen – 3 minutes

I know it’s a bit of a cheat (ADSL broadband was first commercially available in the UK in 2000) but the breakthrough for speed and affordability was 8MB ADSL.

Consumer expectation around digital experiences has increased year-on-year along with their speed of access to the internet; by 2007 half of UK households had broadband and by Q1 2012 that figure rose to 75% with an average speed of 7.6Mbit/s (Source: Ofcom).

This has enabled consumers to be always on, always connected at home, expecting richer online experiences, and been the catalyst for the digital media revolution. No broadband, no exceptional growth in eCommerce and self-service. No broadband, no iTunes, no streaming media, no cloud-based storage.

Missing in action: traditional media distribution (RIP Woolworths, Blockbuster et al).

5. Wi-Fi standard 802.11g (2003)

OK pretty geeky but along with affordable broadband this standard for consumer friendly, reliable Wi-Fi takes some beating in terms of the actual impact on technology use in the home. No longer confined to the home office or spare room, Wi-Fi has allowed people to connect to the internet from anywhere in the home on any number of devices.

This new unplugged connectivity has created a new set of behaviours and expectations: digital media hubs, lean back browsing, dual-screening, even more anti-social kids. It gave us an early preview for the even greater disruption which would come from smartphones and tablets.

Missing in action: wires and cables, home desktop PCs, someone in the house hogging the only internet connection.

4. Google Maps (2005)

Launched in beta as Google Local, Google Maps has completely changed the way consumers find places, businesses and each other. Combining search, content, location data and images into an intuitive and illuminating interface, Google Maps removed the digital abstraction between people and places.

Bringing to bear Google’s unparalleled data and ongoing innovations such as StreetView and mobile functionality, search has never been more useful in helping consumers find what they’re looking for. The casualties: paper maps, sat navs, every other directory service (do you remember the Yellow pages?).

Key moment: In 2012 Apple Maps launches to wailing and gnashing of teeth.

3. Facebook (2004)

From an idea in a Harvard dorm room in 2003 to almost a billion active users worldwide in 2012, Facebook’s remarkable rise has become the stuff of dotcom legend and the subject of Oscar baiting movies. Although the idea of online social networks had been around (Friendster anyone?), the explosive growth of Facebook has driven the mainstream adoption of social media to the point that it’s an unconscious part of most peoples’ lives.

It’s allowed us to keep connected and up to date with friends and families and connected us to other people with the same passions and interests. And in concert with mobile, we never miss a moment or opportunity to share and like. It hosts 4% of all the photos ever taken. It has helped overthrow governments and revive long dead brands.

It has the potential of being the most powerful collaboration tool in the history of mankind. Or it could be just another place for weight loss, casino and credit card ads.

Key moment: On 17 May 2012 Facebook IPOs at $38 valuing it at $104 billion. This week Facebook’s share price is $22.

2. Global financial crisis (2007)

OK so this isn’t an innovation per se, but it is a seismic event which has fundamentally changed the world and the consumers and businesses within it. The end of cheap credit for governments, business and consumers has brought incredible hardship to individuals and the demise of heritage brands and businesses (starting with Woolworths and Northern Rock and ending with JJB Sports – the list is too long to mention here). It has shifted the balance of economic power eastwards and will change the expectations and lives of generations to come.

And yet many companies have been able to survive. Some have even thrived. Apple, Google, Amazon have shown you might actually need to be good to survive. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have shown that cultural leadership probably should come from the CEO.

Customer centricity and user experience are now entering the CEO lexicon. The Chief Experience Officer and Chief Customer Officers are becoming bona fide jobs for organisations realising they might need to effect both organisational and cultural change.

Key moment: In 2012, prior to the launch of the iPhone 5, Apple becomes the world’s most valuable company ever and the second most valuable brand showing there might be something to the idea of brilliant, simple, joined up, holistic user experience.

1. Apple iPhone 3G + App Store (2008)

The first generation iPhone, launched in January 2007, was a huge breakthrough especially when you stop to think that for many years prior the web had been widely available on feature phones. My first experience with the iPhone prompted me to tell Tom over lunch in the Fox Dining Room in Shoreditch, “They’ve finally made the internet viable on a handset. I think this could be really big”.

But the real game changer for most consumers was the addition of 3G connectivity and the launch of the App Store in iTunes thereby unleashing a smartphone revolution. The real business magic of the iPhone is the iTunes and App Store ecosystem easily linked up devices, media, apps, content and – crucially – payments.

The convergence of highly usable internet on a small screen with higher speed 3G, camera and geo location, great user experience has completely changed the expectations and behaviours of consumers. Our Going Mobile study gives us great insight into this new breed of anytime, anywhere, always on, always connected consumer. It also prompted thousands upon thousands of CEO and Marketing Directors to ask “Where’s our iPhone app? I want an iPhone app!” Sigh.

The casualties – Blackberry, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo, Kodak (again).

Key stat: Apple now has 400 million active accounts in iTunes with credit cards, and 650,000 apps in the App Store.

And what of the next 10 years?

If the last 10 years has taught us anything, it’s that digital innovations have the power for incredible disruption, and the speed of change is leaving traditional businesses in the wake of consumers who find it very easy to integrate technology into their thinking and lives.

The key to successfully negotiating the next 10 years will be understanding how these innovations, and those on the horizon (4G, Near-field Communication, 3D printing, everything cloud based), will impact the lives of your customers and which ones will add the most meaning and value to the customer experience and your brand.

See you in 2022!

Tim Loo

I’m the Strategy Director at Foolproof and head up our Experience Strategy practice. I take a lead role when our clients are looking to formally create an experience strategy, plan and measurement framework. It’s an exciting area to work in and an increasingly critical and integral part of many a corporate’s business strategy.

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