Iteration Vs. Innovation: chicken or the egg

From the telephone to the Nokia 3310, iPhone, BlackBerry, leading up to mobile as we know it, times have changed.

Are these iterations or innovations?

The evolution across the various platforms of mobile and social media brings about fertile ground to come to terms with innovation, and iteration. The two are often used interchangeably, and many times, incorrectly.

The buzz around innovation


Innovation can be thought of as ‘coming up with new things’. Is Facebook an innovation? It can be thought of as an iteration because it possibly took the framework of Myspace and created an improvement on the model. However if you take a step back, few aspects to the leading social platform shows that it really is an innovation.

It was generally something we can label as, ‘game-changing’, and that is exactly what Facebook was. The act of innovation explains why customers are sometimes disappointed with new releases of iPhones or a new enhancement on Instagram, WhatsApp etc. Often it’s been branded as something innovative, which creates an expectation from a customers’ point of view that these products will be creations that are completely new.

A few recent innovations are new platforms such as Vine and Snap Chat. Many of those features inspired aspects apparent on other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Another example that is easy to understand is the Apple Watch. Although there were smart watches before it was released, nothing operated as smoothly, seamlessly and changed the game as did the Apple Watches. Apple also takes the lead in setting the tone for how their computer systems operate, and bold moves such as removing ear phonejacks on their mobiles. Their fans then adopt the movement quickly into their every day lives, and it becomes the new norm.

Iteration is as important as innovation

Steve Jobs- Apple is known for redesigning how people use tech


We can think of iteration on the other hand as constant improvements and refinements. It’s between the ‘fail fast’ and ‘agile approach. Taking existing concepts and making continuous improvements on them. Take for example the latest release of the Samsung Galaxy 8 which was recently launched. When compared to previous phones and other phones on the market, it is pretty much the same with just a few enhancements.

The Galaxy 8 boasts a larger display, no longer has a home button and also has a “Siri” like assistant. That’s an example of good iteration, constant improvements on previous versions that now has the Galaxy 8 on track to be the most popular phone.

Social Media is currently having a frenzy with iterations, with many platforms looking quite similar. In fact, many experts are saying the unique selling points between different platforms are no longer as clear-cut because of these iterations. Instagram has a facility to live stream, add albums, like, comment and follow. It’s not much different to Facebook, and is also quite similar to YouTube.

WhatsApp, a messaging platform well known to us, has video capabilities and ‘story-telling’ facilities similar to SnapChat. It’s improved the services of each of these industries but each product may eventually lose its bite as customers become fatigued due to overexposure of the same thing across different platforms.

To iterate or innovate?

Elon Musk’s Tesla iterates for the grand purpose of innovating

It’s apparent that putting iteration on the forefront is a huge benefit to companies or, to iterate first, and then innovate. Competition and market share is important that often the first to market often gets more rewards than an innovative product released after five years in a fast paced environment. An improvement on one product often inspires completely new innovations.

Some of the greatest modern day innovators have been able to sustain their success due to iteration. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who are often seen as the fathers of modern day innovation actually have been iterating their products all along.

The success behind Apple is their sleek interface and unique typeface which Jobs had a keen eye for. If you look at the first Apple laptop, you’ll see how backdated it appears. Through small iterations to the size, weight and aesthetic appeal it became one of the most valuable pieces of technologies in the 21st century.

It’s the feedback loop that occurs through iteration which makes it a concept worth adopting. Elon Musk wholeheartedly adopts this fail fast, fast feedback approach and is one of the reasons why he is so successful. The success behinds Musks’ PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX products come through constant iteration which eventually lead to innovation.

It might be hurtful actually to try and innovate these days without steadfast strategy and means to do so. The true competitive advantage is to iterate, fail fast, improve faster and through this innovation will occur.



Elon Musk