Thursday, October 10, 2013

WSJ: Behind the Best Innovations - Obvious, Annoying Problems

A look at a few of the innovations behind a few of the hottest startups (WSJ):

One persistent critique of the Andy Rooney model of innovation is that it is overly concerned with bourgeois annoyances. As a tech-obsessive who lives in Silicon Valley, most of the problems I want fixed can seem shallow: I'd like retail stores to offer same-day shipping to my house; I'd like restaurants to let me pay for meals from my phone; and I desperately want my phone to direct me to nearby open parking spots. In the same way, Nest, Uber, Square and many other hot start-ups do seem to be offering high-class solutions for rich-people's problems.

But that's myopic. Mr. Fadell points out that Nest's thermostat could save people up to hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs. By minimizing the scourge of false alarms, the Nest Protect could help save lives—so it isn't just a high-end bauble. And remember that over time, the price of digital innovations tends to fall. Today's $129 smoke alarm will cost half as much tomorrow, and then it will cost even less. At that point, it won't seem trivial that a bunch of rich start-up guys looked at the modern world and asked: Why is everything so unbearable?

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