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Apple’s Strategic Differentiation - an inspiration for innovation in Hong Kong

Innovation comes in all forms and sizes. Most people think innovation means technology

with heavy technological invention and R&D. At least that is what most people in Hong Kong think Innovation is all about - some technology research and development

at science parks that files a lot of patents, which may or may not come to light

at the end of the tunnel bridging to commercialization.

There is a different kind of Innovation however that Hong Kong can compete on

- Design Innovation. Mind you, the word “Design” in Design Innovation does not mean “Styling”, its an approach to innovation focused on designing an innovative and unforgettable user experience.

Apple innovated based on Design, People/User-Centric Design. Turn over your iPhone and you’ll find “Designed by Apple in California”, it says “designed” not invented. Everything hardware inside the iPhone including computer chips, screens, cameras etc. was not invented by Apple, it was sourced even from competitors like Samsung. What Apple did was orchestrated all those components, focused on designing a holistic User Experience loved by many. Tablets, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), TVs, computers all existed before the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, what was different is Apple focused on creating the User Experience not only of the iPhone, but how the whole ecosystem of products interacted with each other seamlessly across hardware, software and the web. Design at this level is seeing the big picture, is strategic and is the conductor of the orchestra rather than the individual technical violinists.

This holistic User Experience even drove Apple’s business model. As a consumer, paying per song is a great idea instead of 12 songs that you don’t all like on a CD. And could anyone turn down a device that could fit 1GB of music? Hence the iTunes and iPods. Remember the first MP3 player that came out that only stored 12 songs? Those products were focus on hardware and technology, not the end users. Apple never identified themselves with a specific industry, they were not only a computer company nor a Smartphone company nor an Mp3 company nor a TV company, they can venture into any product category as long as it made sense for the end user. They just innovated by Design.

Steve Jobs knew well how to use Design Innovation to compete. Design is all about emotion, perceptual value and human experience. A phone is a phone is a phone, is what many technological minds might think, but the iPhone completely disrupted the entire mobile phone industry, pulling down tech giants like Nokia and Blackberry being a game changer.

This is my proposal for innovation in Hong Kong - Design Innovation.

For Hong Kong, as a small city with only 7 million people, small internal market, surrounded by tech giants just right across the border like Tencent, Huawei, Alibaba, Lenovo, Baidu - a David v.s. Goliath strategy is needed. We must be clear what competitive advantage we have in Hong Kong.

In Beijing alone, there are 70 higher education establishments. Hong Kong? Maybe 7 or 8? There is no way for Hong Kong to compete on the quantity of brain power, we need to compete on high-value add quality and leverage, which is Design. We might not be able to compete on the best programmers/engineers just by sheer numbers, but we can lead in Design having one of the best design schools in the world at home here in PolyU School of Design, where even Mainland students come to populate the design program.

Apple only have 20 designers, 20 times less designers than many large corporations and spends much less on investment on R&D than IBM, Microsoft and Samsung. When design innovation is used well, small is beautiful. In architecture, you only need 1 architect v.s. many civil engineers. You might be able to name the architects of the Bank of China and the HSBC building, but if asked to name the engineers, one might have a hard time pinning down a name. The iPhone probably costed US$200 to make in manufacturing costs, its design that created the high-value add of 3-4 times over its costs. The point is, Design Innovation has a much higher leverage and we don’t need a lot of people in design to change the game.

What we have in Hong Kong is: free access to global information, international mix of talents, exposure to both East and West media and cultures, good infrastructure, good legal system, intellectual property protection and free market - all integral ingredients for creativity and innovation. Hong Kong being a dynamic metropolitan city with cultural diversity is our best asset we have and at Invotech, we can bring all those different industries and talents to cross-pollinate together in Design-Led Innovation.

Hong Kong is small, but we can be beautiful, like Apple.

Come join the revolution and be a game changer.


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