How innovative ideas and functionalities get “stolen” by big companies.
Like most people, I like to sin by not limiting my screentime before going to sleep. So as I was playing around on my laptop in bed, the screen was too bright. Luckily, a nice little piece of software exists that will alter my screen so that it is nice and easy on my eyes in dark environments. My phone, connected to the charger on the other side of the room, lighted up and the dopamine-inducing text alert urged me to get up and go look at it. Again, luckily, another nice little piece of software exists that allows me to check my messages and calls directly from my laptop, which was resting cozily on my lap.
The message was about the current project at work, reminding me to get some sleep in order to be fresh and ready to tackle the challenges that I would encounter at work the next day. Oops, I almost forgot: I have to make a reservation for the team lunch tomorrow! I quickly checked the ratings and opening hours of several bars and restaurants near my workplace. I made the reservation and went to sleep. “Hey Google, turn off the lights”.
The next morning I wake up by sipping on my coffee while browsing Reddit, and wow, that’s a nice picture of a mountain range! Wondering where this might be, I open the comments but the location is nowhere to be found. No worries, a quick reverse image search points me to the original one and the list of breathtaking locations I should visit just gained a new entry. Getting ready to depart to work, I just have to check out the traffic so that I know how to evade those tedious traffic jams.
Due to technology, our lives have become a lot easier. Our smartphone is now an extension of our brain, and, let’s face it, we could not live without it. Or at least, don’t want to live without it. Performing our day to day tasks has become just so much more effective, and most of this is due to new and innovative apps, ideas and functionalities.
Every year, thousands of startups try to conquer the market with their new, groundbreaking products, and only a few of them really do make it. But unfortunately, a scare trend is becoming something normal: big tech companies adopt a lot of these new technologies, and the original inventors don’t always get the profit.
For every product I mentioned in the introduction, one of the big tech companies has created their own alternative product to replace it. And because more people use their products, consumers will not go through the hassle of installing a third-party app when their device offers them the same functionality by default. Let’s take a look:
- F.lux came out in 2009. On April 11 2017, Microsoft rolled out the Creators Update for Windows 10, which included nightlight. iPhone, MacOS, and Android also support similar functionality.
- MightyText was founded in 2011. Again, with the Creators Update of Windows 10, users can connect their phones to their computers and send/receive text messages from there. Android also offers similar functionality, and MightyText wrote a blog post to distinguish themselves.
- Yelp and TripAdvisor both offer a platform where users can rate and comment on a businesses service. Google now offers this by default, and a quick Google search of any business will not only provide the search results, but also a list of ratings from previous customers.
But restaurants and pubs are not the only things that Google shows ratings for; Every kind of business can be rated on the platform. Google now also supports looking for a place to stay. They still point you to the popular booking websites, but the incentive to visit them in the first place is disappearing. By the way: they also show the opening hours, which brings us to the next item on the list. 🎉🎉
- Various websites for checking opening hours exist, but now Google also provides this information, preventing the need of consumers to visit the third-party alternatives.
- TinEye started in 1999 as a company called Idée Inc. They claim to be the first web-based image search engine to use image identification technology. Again, their primary service being a search engine, Google adopted this feature into their own product. As with all products that are similar, each has their pros and cons.
- Waze is a great GPS app that provides you with the information you need to make your commute or driving experience as optimal as possible. Luckily for them, Big Tech did not choose to just copy them, but they were acquired by Google in 2013. Waze is still available as an app, and Google Maps uses some of their technology.
The list is endless and it’s unnecessary to keep summing up examples; It might look that I’m trying to say that big tech companies adopting innovative functionality as a native feature is a bad thing.
Of course it’s not a bad thing. At least, that is, not for us: the consumers. Every time a big company adds functionality to their products that in the past required us to turn to third-party alternatives, our lives become easier. The only downside is that sometimes, people and companies coming up with innovative ideas will be pushed aside. But there is not a lot they can do against it; You can not patent ideas.
What you can do though, is delivering a product that is so good at what it does, that bigger companies will want to buy yours instead of trying to come up with their own version.