Why Walter Mossberg doesn't get Apple--or innovation.

Bruce Nussbaum

I enjoy reading about the latest gadgets from engadget, shinyshiny, and the Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg. They're all pretty much the same in that they focus on two things--the features and how easy or hard it is to use them (shinyshiny, the self-proclaimed "girl's gadget site" looks at color and style too). That's valuable. That's good. But that's not nearly valuable or good enough.

Mossberg's Seal of Approval on the new video iPod is a case in point. He and his team do a very good job saying the latest iPod version is great for music but less so for video. The review talks about the small screen size, battery capacity, Desperate Housewives and all the stuff that blogs have been yakking about for days.

But what Mossberg doesn't do--what nearly all of the gadget blogs don't do--is go beyond the friendly front face of iPod to discuss the far more important back-end of innovation. The real story of the video iPod is that Steve Jobs did not line up the film industry behind it in any way similar to the way he lined up the music industry behind the original iPod. He got Disney, with whom he is personally in business with through his other company Pixar, to provide a bit of content. That's it.

Don't get me wrong. I think Disney's Bog Iger is a hero in this. He's showing the way for broadcast and film into the new world of disaggregation and distribution. But the rest of the "back-end" of the industry has to joing him or the video iPod isn't going to work. Without the film industry cooperating to download their movies for a simple and reasonable price, there can be no duplication of the success of the original iPod. This is the real story of latest iPod. It's one of failure of backend organization, not the success of yet another cool-looking device. Larry Keeley of Doblin says Apple is wildly successful because it innovates in seven spaces simultaneously. Doing great product design is only one of them.

Yes, Business Week also has a popular tech reviewer, Steve Wildstrom. But I like him because he really gets into all the backend systems stuff that makes any product or service great these days. Wildstrom gets innovation much better than Mossberg and I'm not saying that just because he's a colleague.

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