Read This.  I'll Wait. 

Good Yes?  I really did love this blog post.  So much so that I'm not even going to quote it as one last attempt to get you to read the whole thing. 

If you still didn't read it (what is wrong with you?) I'll summarize really quickly.  Basically the author makes the point that concept designs (a.k.a. those product designs that are shown off as "products of the future" during tech presentations) are pointless.  They never come to anything and are almost always leap frogged by people designing actual products (Tivo, iPod, etc...)

I could not agree with this sentiment more.  Research and Development that isn't attached to an actual product doesn't work because you have no idea if the average consumer will have any interest in what you're developing.  TV Executives, for example, spend millions of dollars a year to gauge how the public will react to certain shows and still fail more than they succeed when it comes to actually making successful shows. 

Yet we're supposed to be believe a researcher inside a company like Microsoft is going to be keyed into the wants and needs of the average person?  Doubtful.

Consider this, Microsoft spends more on R&D than any other company on Earth.  So why is the crown jewel of their next OS something they had to steal from an Apple product?  More importantly, what of value has Microsoft R&D ever managed to produce? 

I can't think of anything.

That's $6 BILLION dollars per year being flushed down the toilet (that's average, it was actually $7 billion in 2007).  Think much you could do if you spread that money around to various startups.  Sure many of them would fail but a few wouldn't and at least then you would have produced SOMETHING with your $7 BILLION dollars that year. 

Which brings me to my point: Corporate R&D should focus on actual products, albeit high priced ones. 

There are always going to be very rich people in the world which means there's always going to be a market for products that push the boundaries of what we can do.  Given that there's no reason for any person at Microsoft to be working on something that can't be turned into a product of some kind. 

It doesn't have to be profitable it just has to be something usable.  Something that someone will want to buy.  That way you can determine if the thing you are working on is something no one wants to buy and change gears if there's no interest. 

By doing this companies like Microsoft could actually manage to produce revolutionary consumer devices.  It's been my observation that the world follows a pretty simple cycle in this area...

  • Products are made that cost too much for anyone but the richest of people
  • The richest of people buy those products which increases production
  • Prices fall
  • Those ultra expensive innovations reach the public at large

This isn't rocket science.  It's been happening since the beginning of time.  Long before "smart" people conceived of spending monstrous amounts of money on ventures that never produce a working product.