When most people think innovation, they think Apple, not Microsoft. But Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says that he worries that Microsoft has become more innovative than Apple, and that Apple has fallen into the habit of just churning out new generations of existing products.
Wozniak said that when being interviewed by by Andrew Keen of TechCrunch at TEDx Brussels. The seven-minute video is well worth watching.
When asked whether Microsoft had become more innovative than Apple, Wozniak responded:
"[With Microsoft] I've seen more of the type of the innovation where you see something, and whoa, they really changed things drastically, whoa, they aren't even going in the same direction as everyone else, meaning the iPhone and the Android operating system.
"A couple of day ago I read an article where Microsoft has a machine and you'll speak into it English and it will come out Mandarin. And if they're making strides in this valuable voice-recognition area, I fear that Microsoft might have been sitting in their labs trying to innovate with a formula, how do we come up with new ideas, let's not keep doing the same things as before...they might have been doing that for three years, while Apple was just used to cranking out the newest iPhone and falling behind, and that worries me greatly."
During the interview, Wozniak also reminded people that years ago Apple had fallen on hard times, and he attributes that to a death of the innovation culture during those time. He warns:
"During that point in history when I look back, we were cranking out the Macintosh...and we were improving them. Improving them is not Apple-style innovation, it's not like you're creating something astounding that you're just gasping because it's so unexpected...We just had a formula for making money, and running it, and making the same machine."
That's a backhand way of saying that Apple may well have fallen into the same habits today -- making incremental improvements to their blockbuster innovations, but not creating anything new.
I think Wozniak is onto something. When was the last time something truly different came out of Apple? Like clockwork the company turns out the latest generation of iPads or iPhones or Macbooks, and they make plenty of money. But that's not innovation. That's what Wozniak would refer to as "a formula for making money."
Microsoft, meanwhile, has innovated. As Wozniaks says, Windows Phone is truly different from the iPhone and Android. And it's better than them in some ways, notably in that it's an information-centric operating system rather than an application-centric one. Information flows into it more freely through Live Tiles. As for Windows 8, there's no doubt that as a tablet operating system, it's truly innovative in a similar way as well.
This isn't to say that Microsoft's innovations will pay off financially. But Wozniak is right to point out that Microsoft has done some seriously innovative work. Left partially unsaid is that Apple is starting to stagnate.