Innovation in terrestrial transportation apparatus (AKA reinventing the wheel)


For an industry that managed to store information within tiny fragments of silicon, the tech industry itself seems to have an awfully short memory.

It seems like every year there’s a wave of companies seeking to ‘revolutionise this’ or ‘disrupt that’, and for every genuinely useful product or service, there’s an allegedly ‘innovative’ solution that is in reality completely redundant.

Take, for example, the infamous Citymapper ‘Smartbus’ service - a minivan with a fixed route and fixed stops, but that allowed passengers to hail it via the company’s app. You would be forgiven, dear reader, for thinking that this sounds like an ordinary bus service with extra steps and smaller capacity. Then there’s Audible Captions, which adds subtitles to Amazon’s audiobook catalogue, allowing users to read along with the spoken text - you know, exactly like books have been allowing us to do for hundreds of years.

My personal favourite, however, is Milk&More, which bills itself as a sustainable dairy delivery service, delivering locally-sourced dairy products and other assorted groceries to customers’ doors, using recyclable glass bottles. While not strictly speaking a tech company, this business wins points for being a bald-faced rip-off of the traditional local milkman.

These are solutions looking for a problem. None of them is the result of genuine consumer demand, or an unfilled niche - they’re simply an example of companies repackaging an existing idea with better marketing and a flashy app, and hoping nobody will notice that they don’t actually need it.

Las Vegas’ annual Consumer Electronics Show, which takes place every January, is usually when a lot of these companies rear their heads, desperate to grab media attention and VC cash off the back of somewhat dubious ‘innovation awards’. A relatively harmless irritation, you might think - but imagine what the tech industry could do if it took all the time, energy and resources that went into these ‘unnovations’ and applied them to actual problems.

There are countless social issues that could benefit from the skills and money that are being (let’s not mince words) wasted on these go-nowhere products. Companies like Study Rocket and CareRooms are trying to make an actual difference with their work, and there are hundreds more tackling a huge range of problems.

Even outside of socially-conscious companies, these resources could be put to use developing products for which there is an actual demand. As it is, these companies are created because some bright spark was convinced their ‘revolutionary’ idea was going to change the world, but some things don’t need to be constantly revised and reinvented - especially if the so-called reinvention doesn’t actually add anything of value.

To paraphrase famous scientist Dr. Ian Malcolm, these companies are so preoccupied with whether or not they can, they rarely stop to think if they should.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.