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Essay: Innovation Case Study – Laptop/Tablet

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  • Published: 17 September 2021*
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The introduction of the Laptop has redefined and revolutionised the way we live our lives, by inventing new ways we communicate, consume, learn, work, and spend our spare time. Laptops have become personal to almost everyone, solving problems likes access to information and news, while also improving other factors that weren’t even considered to inefficient until the Laptop was introduced, like shopping, jobs, and relationships. Compared to the first computers, ones that filled whole rooms, and even the first Laptop, which was expensive and intrusive (and was used by NASA in the early 1980s), the modern Laptop is not only more compact and powerful than its predecessors, they also possess a larger influence in society [1]. The Laptop used to be a 24-pound box with a 5-inch screen and connected keyboard, but with development and refinement, and the use of miniaturisation technology, it has become a sleek, thin, lightweight tablet that can fold to make itself to be even more portable, and newer designs have removed the keyboard all together and used just a touchscreen. Many recent designs have started to abide by green design principles, like the New MacBook Pro, that uses arsenic-free glass and mercury-free LED display [2]. This not only applies to the hardware, but also the software, as many designs attempt to make them more efficient in power usage and computing speed. The universality of the Laptop, and its ability to be used to complete most tasks of that face a modern-day person, have allowed it to reach a wide scope of users, no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, and even socio-economic class, as the price of Laptop can be as little as $300. The Laptop has changed the way we as a society operate, by improving the quality and efficiency of our work, and making it easier to reach and communicate with new people.
1. Bellis, M. (2019, January 23). Learn Who Invented the Laptop Computer. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-laptop-computers-4066247
2. Pollak, S. (2017, June 05). Eco-friendly laptops. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/computers/stories/eco-friendly-laptops

Design Process

When designing innovative products, it is important to carefully think about every detail as innovative works have no previous scaffold to work off. The first Laptop designer, Adam Osbourne, had the idea of a portable computer in mind, but realising that goal would have been difficult, as many of the function and parts a computer possessed couldn’t be easily manipulated to fit a portable version. Laptop designers, like Apple, still face this problem, as well as the precedent of an immensely lightweight, densely compact device Osbourne didn’t have to contend with. Apple has a structured way of thinking when it comes to innovating, as they need to make sure it covers every possible flaw in its design. Apple has a 7-step process when it comes to designing, and it begins with an idea and a rudimentary design. Then a design team is created for that specific product, and it is segregated from most parts of the company, like finance, to allow them to create the best version of the idea. A document, called the Apple New Product Process (ANPP), is introduced that outlines every step of the development process in detail. It is responsible for delegating stages and deadlines. The Executive Team meets every Monday to review all products ‘in the works’, which allows them to make key decisions without being inefficient. The next stage is called the ‘EPM Mafia’ and refers to the Engineering Manager and Supply Manager, and their overseeing of the production of the first prototypes. After it is first manufactured, it is then constantly tested and reproduced until the kinks are worked out. It is an extremely expensive method as many of the prototypes are finished to completion, but it is standard at Apple. The Marketing Team is then responsible for designing the packaging of the product, how it is represented and presented to the consumer. The final step is called ‘Rules of the Road’, and this is a document that outlines the steps taken for the product launch. This final step of marketing is very important to Apple, as it can affect the sales of the product and its perception of wider society [2]. This design process has been effective for Apple in their production of their MacBook range, and many similar process take place when designing other Laptops we see today.
Panzarino, M. (2016, March 18). This Is How Apple’s Top Secret Product Development Process Works. Retrieved February 23, 2019, from https://thenextweb.com/apple/2012/01/24/this-is-how-apples-top-secret-product-development-process-works/

Ethical/Social/Environmental Factors

The Laptop has changed the whole social sphere, developing new ways to communicate and interact with one another. The Laptop first utilised Email as a new form of communication, being able to send large amounts information and documents to another no matter their location. Then following this, video-chat services (e.g., Skype, Discord, FaceTime) were invented that allowed us to not only send messages to each other in an instant, but gave people the ability to talk face-to-face with anyone around the globe instantly, meaning people could have a normal conversation with anyone anywhere. Even with these amazing developments in communication, the by-products of these advancements are not insignificant. Because of the ease-of-access that comes with this technology, and the range of entertainment that a Laptop has access to, people aren’t as likely to leave their homes to socialise. This is causing a major increase in anti-social behaviour, and having a lasting effect on generation that are growing up with this technology, changing the way they interact with other people. Designers of more recent models have created inbuilt technology that can monitor and limit usage and access, meaning that the addiction that is causing this trend can be managed. There has also been an increase in the theft of people’s personal data. More and more people are uploading their personal details online, and more companies are tracking people’s activity on the internet, all in the attempt to increase profits by selling their information, meaning people are no longer the customers, but the product. Many businesses have developed software to prevent recent danger, to hide people’s online movements and prevent them being tracked. There have also been recent inquiries into companies, like Facebook, who were found to be perpetuating this breach of privacy that has become commonplace. It does provide access to inappropriate and offensive material, but designers have integrated many ways to block access to this material to make it safer to use.
The environment is another that has fallen victim to some unintended effects of the Laptop. When looking at the complete lifecycle of the Laptop, its carbon footprint is enormous. First, the raw materials, like gold, that need to be mined and refined require large amounts energy and produce dangerous and harmful by-products, that pollute the air and water. Then for it to properly function, it requires massive amounts of power over the span of its lifetime, which is provided from many non-renewable energy sources that produce large amounts of CO2 that damage the ozone layer. Finally, once it is no longer working or wanted, it is thrown away. Many of the materials in a Laptop are not only harmful, but also are not able to be recycled or they aren’t profitable to recycle, meaning they are dumped in landfill, and can seep into the dirt and poison the soil or groundwater [1]. Some of the precious metals are worth recovering from old models, but the processes of retrieving these metals, like the melting of the plastic that it is attached to in acid, does more harm than good. There are many initiatives and businesses that are attempting to reduce the amount of Laptop waste be helping to recycle them, like E-waste Express and Plant Ark’s ‘Recycling Near You’ [2]. The environment has fallen prey to the recent rise of technology, but there are attempts to move to more eco-friendly solutions, like software that lowers energy usage or using arsenic and mercury-free displays [3].

Factors that impact its success

The major companies that produce Laptops, like Apple and Microsoft, use different marketing strategies to entice people do purchase their products. Apple uses a strategy to make customers believe they are in a community, that they are a part of something and that the brand understands them [1]. Companies like HP and Dell sell Laptops as a personalised device, a customisable technology that is specialised to a person [2]. These companies also set up support networks that allowed people to easily purchase new products or service old ones, with on site and on call technicians 24/7. The release of Laptops have coincided with a world events that help further their launch, like the Grid Compass, which was released in the space era and was used by NASA for the space shuttle program [3]. Social influences are another massive driving factor that determined the rate of innovation, as our society became more technologically accepting and then dependent. The economy, which has not only affected people’s ability to purchase a Laptop, but also determined when companies could purchase the required resources and in what quantities. The obdurate entrepreneurship of recent decades, like Bill Gates, has led to the creation of some of today’s most popular Laptops, including the Surface Pro, as well as unlocking technologies, like miniaturisation and touch screens, that have allowed for the outstanding innovations that have reimagined previous designs. A vast range of factors have to be considered when determining the successfulness of a product, and many companies have capitalised on opportunities to maximise the merit of their product.

Intellectual Property

After the creation of the first Laptop, many companies attempted to mimic its success by creating version of their own, and then improving on those versions to become the best. The original Laptop design, The Grid Compass, was patented and owned by Grid Systems Corporation [1]. The idea of the Laptop is so broad that it cannot be owned by a signal entity, but each design is owned by the company it has come from, and each differs from another in its own individual way, like the new patent Dell has placed on its Latitude 7424, that has two detachable screens with a single keyboard [2]. Many companies innovated on the original design, like Apple, Microsoft or Zenith, but none of them owned the concept. There have been many disputes over the years about different design features, like Xiaomi copying some of its designs from Apple [3], and many had to sort out disputes in court. The man credited with the creation of first portable computer, Adam Osbourne, may have had the original idea of a portable computer, but he was outdone by the differences and improvements in his competitor’s designs, and his computer never ‘took off’ [1]. There have been many versions of the same idea, each owned by a different person or company, but the idea of a portable computer is so broad that it was and could never be claimed to be the property of a single person.
1. Bellis, M. (2019, January 23). Learn Who Invented the Laptop Computer. Retrieved February 24, 2019, from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-laptop-computers-4066247
2. Diaz, J. (2019, January 04). Dell Patents the Weirdest Laptop You Have Ever Seen. Retrieved February 24, 2019, from https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/dell-dual-screen-laptop-patent
3. 10 times Xiaomi ‘copied’ Apple: Smartphone and laptop design, names, ads and more | Gadgets Now. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2019, from https://www.gadgetsnow.com/slideshows/10-times-xiaomi-copied-apple-smartphone-and-laptop-design-names-ads-and-more/photolist/68113866.cms

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