Get into a conversation about the meaning of innovation and you'll likely hear terms like, "fresh," "groundbreaking," and "game changing." These terms aptly describe facets of innovation, but not the word itself. To innovate is to create, to makes something that never existed before.
That's a pretty stringent definition and many companies that claim to be innovators would never come close to clearing that hurdle. Even Apple, whose product are often thought to be synonymous with the word, have failed to show innovation in some devices where some people claimed it exists. (To be fair, Apple has seldom claimed that their products are innovative, they've left that up to the media to do. Rather, Apple will claims its devices to be "revolutionary" which they often are.)
To be truly innovative you have to create, and in today's world that's pretty hard to do. Even if you manage to create something new, making it marketable is nearly as hard as creating it in the first place. So, when a product comes along that is really and truly innovative, and it doesn't suck, then people take notice.
The iPhone was an innovative device. True, there were smartphones before the iPhone, but they were not very smart. Apple's device grabbed everyone's attention because it did something no other phone did before it, it allowed personal interaction. Touch it and it worked. No stylus necessary. Here was a device that you had to talk to, poke at, read, swipe, listen to, and finger. Before the iPhone, smartphones were for the deep technogeeks who didn't mind a certain distance between them and their devices. For this crowd the stylus had replaced pens in the pocket protector.
There were apps before Apple introduced the App Store, but no one had created a complete ecosystem where developer's products were one-click close to the pocketbooks of potential customers.
App developers sometimes claim that what they offer is innovative. Sometimes it's true. In this week's Free on iTunes I'll point out 3 apps that are innovative in some way. That doesn't mean these apps are necessarily the bee's knees. You'll have to decide that for yourself.
First up, World Series of Yahtzee.
To call this app innovative may be a stretch, but bear with me.
Most folks have played Yahtzee before. You take turn rolling 5 dice 3 times per turn and try to complete set of defined combinations (Full house, straights, 4 of a kind, so on) for a score. The highest score at the end of the game wins. It's a simple game and it can be a lot of fun. Bringing that game to the iPhone is not a hard task, making it something that people will want to play enough to pay for the privilege is. Enter World Series of Yahtzee.
Power-ups will cost you
Like original Yahtzee, you roll 5 dice to complete defined combinations, but that's where the similarity ends. In World Series of Yahtzee you roll the dice as often as you can in 2 minutes and score by matching the aforementioned sets. The kicker is that the sets keep changing. Match a set and that one swaps out for a randomly selected different set. It makes for a fast paced game.
Match a combination to score, but do it quickly
At the start of each game you can chose from a set of power-ups, using them will cost you coins, which, unfortunately, aren't easy to earn enough of unless you pay for them through in-app purchases. The good thing is that you don't need the power-ups to play, the bad thing is that not using them puts you at a distinct disadvantage. Your opponent most certainly will use power-ups and will most likely win. So, for a better chance at winning you have to pay. Where's the fun in that?
Another bad thing is that it forces you to either play using your FaceBook account (if you have one) or play anonymously. What's wrong with Game Center?
In the end the innovation with World Series of Yahtzee isn't so much the inventive gameplay, which isn't enough to make me choose it over Words with Friends, but rather the blatant money grab, which is only eclipsed by the likes of Farmville. Your mileage may vary.
If World Series of Yahtzee is on the low end of the innovation curve then the stuff on the other end must be akin to alien technology, and you would be right. I offer two examples.
Next, TNW E-Zine.
Yes, I know there are boatloads of e-mags available, but none are as connected as TNW. The e-rag was born and bred on the Internet, but don't think you'll be reading repackaged articles found on websites or Wikipedia. TNW offers up all original content in each issue. Good content too. Stuff you'll want to read.
This mag has been around for awhile
Take the latest issue titled "Disconnected." You'll find articles about current and future technologies, art (real art!!), music which you can play in the background while you browse, book and movie reviews and much more.
Original content sets is apart
But it isn't so much the content that sets TNW apart from the other mags, it's the /feel/ of the magazine. It breathes the Internet though it doesn't shove it in your face. It's connected, but doesn't feel like it. Maybe it's the ads that merge so seamlessly with the rest of the content that you won't realize it's an ad until you've read a few lines into it. Maybe it's how the articles are merged with its supporting media, which is to say that it's all integrated, but it isn't trying to prove that it's integrated. It's like the e-magazine has matured and has finally become comfortable with its identity.
TNW is free, but worth real dollars, and is definitely worth your time.
Last up, The Silent History.
And now, for something truly different.
Imagine a book with a story that is constantly evolving because the story is crowdsourced. The main storyline is written and managed by the author, but various details will come from the readers who'll contribute blog-like "field reports" that enrich and expand the story. That is the idea behind The Silent History.
The Silent History: The Free Part
The story itself is offered up in daily increments. There'll be 6 volumes of these incremental stories, all interlaced. The prologue, introduction, and initial reports that set the stage for the story are free. You can buy additional volumes individually for US$1.99 each or US$8.99 for the entire set.
I know what you're thinking. This is hardly free. Trust me on this. Get the free part and take a look around, because you are going to see a lot more stories like this in the near future.
The Silent History: The no-so-free part
Here is fiction that involves the reader like no paper text could. The writers are taking advantage of our connected environment and have created something more than a book, it's an experience. I, for one, am looking forward to this story unfolding if for no other reason than to see how the author pulls it all off.
The Silent History is available for all iOS devices capable of running iOS 5 or later. I think you really want to take a look at this one.
And that's a wrap for this week.