Edison, Not Antitrust, Reduced Power of Hated Gas Monopolies

Counterbalancing the angst of those hurt by the death of an old technology is sometimes the triumph creative destruction provides to those who were less well-served by the old technology. Some look to governments to restrain a dominant technology; but sometimes a more effective way is to replace the old technology through creative destruction’s leapfrog competition.

(p. 84) Gaslight monopolies had few friends outside of the ranks of shareholders. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, gaslight had been viewed as pure and clean; seventy years later, its shortcomings had become all too familiar: it was dirty, soiled interior furnishings, and emit-(p. 85)ted unhygienic fumes. It was also expensive, affordable for indoor lighting only in the homes of the wealthy, department stores, or government buildings. The New York Times almost spat out the following description of how gas companies conducted business: “They practically made the bills what they pleased, for although they read off the quantity by the meter, that instrument was their own, and they could be made to tell a lie of any magnitude…. Everybody has always hated them with a righteous hatred.”

Edison credited the gas monopoly for providing his original motivation to experiment with electric light years before in his Newark laboratory. Recalling in October 1878 his unpleasant dealings years earlier with the local gas utility, which had threatened to tear out their meter and cut off the gas, Edison said, “When I remember how the gas companies used to treat me, I must say that it gives me great pleasure to get square with them.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed an editorial titled “Revenge Is Sweet” in which it observed that the general public greatly enjoyed the discomfort of the gas companies, too: “To see them squirm and writhe is a public satisfaction that lifts Edison to a higher plane than that of the wonderful inventor and causes him to be regarded as a benefactor of the human race, the leading deity of popular idolatry.”

Source:
Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.
(Note: ellipsis in original.)

With iTunes, Apple Leapfrogged CD Burners (a Boat Apple Had Missed)

Is the example sketched below, and in a previous entry, a case of a first mover disadvantage? Or is it simply a case of a lucky or wise bounce-back from a genuine mistake?

(p. 382) . . . [Job’s] angry insistence that the iMac get rid of its tray disk drive and use instead a more elegant slot drive meant that it could not include the first CD burners, which were initially made for the tray format. “We kind of missed the boat on that,” he recalled. “So we needed to catch up real fast.” The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.

Source:
Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis and bracketed “Job’s” added.)

Apple “Finding a Way to Leapfrog Over Its Competitors”

Isaacson says Jobs wanted two refinements in the iMac. One was new colors. The other is discussed below.
I am not sure what to make of this episode. Is Isaacson suggesting that it was good for Apple that Jobs made a mistake on the type of CD hardware to put in the iMac? That this added constraint “would then force Apple to be imaginative and bold”?
Or is the moral that good people who make a lot of quick decisions, make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, and that Jobs found a way to bounce back from this one?

(p. 356) There was one other important refinement that Jobs wanted for the iMac: getting rid of that detested CD tray. “I’d seen a slot-load drive on a very high-end Sony stereo,” he said, “so I went to the drive manufacturers and got them to do a slot-load drive for us for the version of the iMac we did nine months later.” Rubinstein tried to argue him out of the change. He predicted that new drives would come along that could burn music onto CDs rather than merely play them, and they would be available in tray form before they were made to work in slots. “If you go to slots, you will always be behind on the technology,” Rubinstein argued.

“I don’t care, that’s what I want,” Jobs snapped back. They were having lunch at a sushi bar in San Francisco, and Jobs insisted that they continue the conversation over a walk. “I want you to do the slot-load drive for me as a personal favor,” Jobs asked. Rubinstein agreed, of course, but he turned out to be right. Panasonic came out with a CD drive that could rip and burn music, and it was available first for computers that had old-fashioned tray loaders. The effects of this (p. 357) would ripple over the next few years: It would cause Apple to be slow in catering to users who wanted to rip and burn their own music, but that would then force
Apple to be imaginative and bold in finding a way to leapfrog over its competitors when Jobs finally realized that he had to get into the music market.

Source:
Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Android App Phones Play “One Seriously Crazy Game of Leapfrog”

DroidXphone2010-07-05.jpg

“The Droid X is the latest “best Android phone on the market.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) You think technology moves too fast now? You think your camera, camcorder and computer become obsolete quickly?

Try buying an app phone. In this business, the state of the art changes as often as Lady Gaga changes outfits.
Suppose, for example, that you want one of the increasingly popular phones that run Google’s Android software.
Last November, you might have been tempted by the Motorola Droid, “the best Android phone on the market.” A month later, the HTC Hero was “the best Android phone on the market.” By January, “the best Android phone yet” was the Nexus One. In April, “the best Android device that you can purchase” was the HTC Incredible. In May, “the best Android phone on the market” was the Sprint Evo.
Either “the best Android phone on the market” is a tech critic’s tic, or we’re witnessing one seriously crazy game of leapfrog.
The latest buzz is about the Motorola Droid X, which Verizon will offer in mid-July for $200.
. . .
(p. B8) . . . , it’s thrilling to see the array of excellent app phones that the original iPhone begat. If you who crave power, speed, flexibility, dropless calls an almost-Imax screen and Verizon’s network (as opposed to Sprint and its similar Evo), the Droid X is a big, beautiful contender for the “best Android phone on the market” crown.
This month’s crown, anyway.

For the full story, see:

DAVID POGUE. “State of the Art; Big Phone, Big Screen, Big Pleasure.” The New York Times (Thurs., July 1, 2010): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 30, 2010.)

Leapfrog Competition in the Wine Industry

PlasticCork2010-05-04.jpg

“A machine makes Portugal whine.” Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) ZEBULON, N.C.–In a nondescript factory in this small, wooded town, 10 giant machines worked around the clock last year to churn out 1.4 billion plastic corks, enough to circle the earth 1.33 times if laid end-to-end.

Unknown to most American wine drinkers, the plant’s owner, Nomacorc LLC, has quietly revolutionized the 400-year-old wine-cork industry. Since the 1600s, wine has been bottled almost exclusively with natural cork, a porous material that literally grows on trees in Portugal, Spain and other Mediterranean lands.
But over the past 10 years, an estimated 20% of the bottle stopper market has been replaced by a new technology–plastic corks that cost between 2 and 20 cents apiece. More than one in 10 full-sized wine bottles sold worldwide now come with a Nomacorc plug, while another 9% or so come from other plastic cork makers. Screw caps took another 11% of the market.
“We infuriated the cork industry,” says Marc Noel, Nomacorc’s chairman.
. . .
The story of how Nomacorc and other stop-(p. A10)per upstarts broke the centuries-old cork monopoly is a lesson in how innovation, timing and hustle combined to exploit an opening in a once airtight market. It shows that any dominant industry can be vulnerable to competition, especially if it grows complacent about its position.

For the full story, see:
TIMOTHY AEPPEL. “Show Stopper: How Plastic Popped the Cork Monopoly.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 1, 2010): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

CorkPieChart2010-05-04.gif

Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Bose Leapfrogs the Competition in Defense of Your Peace and Quiet

BoseQuietComfort15.jpg“The Bose QuietComfort 15 has refined circuitry and redesigned earcaps.” Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B8) . . . , if your sales are getting eaten alive by cheaper rivals, and you don’t want to play the price game, you have only one option: play leapfrog. Make your gadget so much better than the me-toos that people will be willing to pay your premium once again.

That’s the idea behind Bose’s new QuietComfort 15 model ($300), which replaces the QuietComfort 2.
. . .
First, the QC15 model really, truly does advance the art of noise cancellation — big time. The QC 2 headphones and my Panasonics cut the airplane roar by half. But the 15 reduced it by, say, 85 percent, leaving only a distant, whispery whoosh to remind you that you’re in an aluminum tube 39,000 feet up in the air. Taking them off after a while, as you’ll want to do because your ears get sweaty, is like walking into a rock concert when you’ve been outside the building.

For the full story, see:
DAVID POGUE. “State of the Art; Ho Ho Ho? You Won’t Hear a Thing.” The New York Times (Thurs., December 3, 2009): B1 & B8.
(Note: the online version of the article is “State of the Art; Bose’s Latest Headphones Can Quell the Clangor” and is dated December 2, 2009.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

Electric Mitsubishis and Nissans May Leapfrog Hybrid Toyotas

(p. B6) Both Nissan and Mitsubishi have their own reasons for rushing out an all-electric car. Having invested little in hybrids, they hope to leapfrog straight to the next technology.
. . .
“You don’t see many competing technologies survive in a key market for very long,” said Mr. Shimizu, the Keio University professor.
And more often than not in the history of innovation, a change in the dominant technology means a change in the market leader.
“Electric cars are a disruptive technology, and Toyota knows that,” Mr. Shimizu said. “I wouldn’t say Toyota is killing the electric vehicle. Perhaps Toyota is scared.”

For the full story, see:
HIROKO TABUCHI. “The Electric Slide.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 20, 2009): B1 & B6.
(Note: The online version of the article had the title: “Toyota, Hybrid Innovator, Holds Back in Race to Go Electric.”)
(Note: ellipsis added.)