Non-Operating System

Gosh, even New Coke lasted nearly three months. After only seven weeks on the market, the Hewlett-Packard TouchPad, billed as the iPad’s nemesis, died a quick death last year.

A New York Times article today about the ill-fated TouchPad notes “a long list of factors behind the tablet’s quick demise” and considers a number of them. One was that the TouchPad ran on a core software called WebOS, an operating system made by Palm, even though WebOS wasn’t really ready to roll.

Paul Mercer, former senior director of software at Palm, had something especially revealing to say. “Palm was ahead of its time in trying to build a phone software platform using Web technology,” Mercer told the Times. “Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn’t there yet.”

There’s a difference between an idea and an innovation, and Peter Drucker was at pains to emphasize it. “The greatest inventive genius in recorded history was surely Leonardo da Vinci,” Drucker wrote in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “There is a breathtaking idea—submarine or helicopter or automatic forge—on every single page of his notebooks. But not one of these could have been converted into an innovation with the technology and the materials of 1500.”

In other words, da Vinci’s vision ran far ahead of reality. It’s a trap that would-be innovators can easily fall into. “Don’t try to innovate for the future,” Drucker counseled. “Innovate for the present!” [EXPAND More]

Drucker noted, for example, that it took 25 years for the computer to have “any sizable impact on the way business was being done.” But it still offered important applications, such as making payroll systems more efficient, from the get-go.

“Unless there is an immediate application in the present,” Drucker wrote, “an innovation is like the drawings in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook—a ‘brilliant idea.’” And nothing more, just like the TouchPad.

What about you? Have you ever seen an innovation that was too far ahead of its time?[/EXPAND]