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Innovation Strategy Example: Apple is a Camera Company

Innovation Strategy Example: Apple is a Camera Company

Forget Productivity, Photography is the Smartphone Killer Feature

Are you one of the 6% of CEOs satisfied with your organization’s innovation? Stop reading. For the other 84%, get inspired with this innovation strategy example. Smartphone technology has become synonymous with consumer photography innovation, and Apple’s iPhone has consistently led the way.

Photography is now a way of life for consumers. Every year, 1.72 trillion photos are taken, equaling 4.7 billion photos per day. With a global population of 7.7 billion, every other person (including infants!) takes at least one photo each day.

Without smartphones in our pockets, purses and hands, along with the ability to instantly share our photos with the world, this reality would have never happened. For better or worse, the rise of consumer photography is an excellent innovation strategy example of noticing what consumers care about and doubling down on it.

Innovation Strategy Example:
The Early Days of iPhone

When the first iPhone smartphone was launched in 2007, no one predicted how smartphone photography would change consumer behavior and become a top feature for almost all users.

Early reviews of the iPhone focused on multi-tasking and productivity potential, as seen in this June 2007 Newsweek piece by Steven Levy:

“During my travels and airport delays, I was able to keep up with my e-mail, negotiate my way around the downtown, get tips on the city from an old friend whose number I don’t normally have handy, check the weather conditions in New York and D.C., monitor baseball scores and blogs, listen to an early Neil Young concert and amuse myself with silly YouTube videos and an episode of “Weeds,” all on a single charge before the battery ran down.”

But Apple quickly noticed that users enjoyed having a camera at hand. Its introduction of video recording in 2009 started a wave of camera innovations that continues through today.

Innovation Strategy Example:
Evolution Snapshot of Smartphone Photo Technology

The chart below shows innovation strategy examples of how Apple has advanced photo technology with some of its photography-focused models.

Release YearModel NameNew Camera Features
2007iPhone 12 megapixel, no flash, no zoom, no video
2009iPhone 3GSintroduced video recording
2010iPhone 4introduced front-facing camera (Can you say selfies?)
2013iPhone 5S8 megapixel, slow motion video, dual flash
2016iPhone 7dual camera that enhanced zoom, portrait mode
2017iPhone Xportrait mode for selfies
2019iPhone 11 Pro12 megapixel, 3 different HDR lenses on back camera: telephoto, wide, ultra-wide
2020iPhone 12 Pro MaxLiDar scanning, improved night mode, 5x optical zoom, RAW photos, Dolby Vision video of 60 fps
2021iPhone 13 Pro3 different HDR lenses with up to 6x optical zoom, depth of field options, HDR, macro mode, 4k video recording, 3x optical video zoom. (Seriously, almost too many features to mention.)

Other iPhone models released in the same year typically focused on price competitiveness or form factor and offered the photography advances of the previous year’s top-of-the-line model.

Innovation Strategy Example: Apple is a Camera Company

Innovation Strategy Example:
Smartphone Camera Invents Instagram?

Is it a coincidence that Instagram launched in October 2010, the same year Apple iPhone introduced the “selfie camera?” In its first week, Instagram was downloaded 100,000 times by iOS users. Today, Instagram has about one billion monthly active users who post an amazing 95 million photos and videos each day.

The large market of smartphone photography accessories also shows how ubiquitous consumer photography has become, including:

  • Smartphone tripods
  • Selfie sticks
  • Ring lights
  • Photo filter and editing apps
  • Photo books and other physical products from companies like Shutterfly

The US National Park Service even faces new safety struggles thanks to the rise of selfies (and photography in general). Since 1944, Smokey the Bear has been admonishing us, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Now, Yellowstone National Park practically begs visitors to stay eight buses away from bears. Already in 2022, the park has witnessed three visitors gored by bison… likely in pursuit of the perfect photo.

Innovation Strategy Example: Apple is a Camera Company

Innovation Strategy Example:
Photography is the Focus of Today’s iPhone

Apple’s web page for iPhone 13 Pro focuses on camera features for both photography and videography. Barely a mention is made of the 1TB storage capacity, display refresh rate, processing speed, battery life or other technical details.

Innovation Strategy Example: Apple is a Camera Company

As a company, Apple has doubled down on consumer photography. Even some professional photographers have given up their DSLRs:

“Between the increasingly intuitive features, accessibility, and high-quality images, many professional photographers have made your iPhone a go-to tool when shooting. So much so that an entire sub-class of creatives was born who exclusively use their iPhones for their work.”

In 2021, 52% of Apple’s $365B revenue came from iPhone, $191.9B. Well-known camera brands Canon and Nikon earned $30.55B and $3.3B, respectively. So, the case could be made that Apple is a more successful camera company than these famous brands.

Innovation Strategy Example:
Smartphone Competitors Keep Up

Apple is not alone in smartphone camera features, of course. Android phones include offerings from Samsung, Sony, Vivo, Xiaomi and more. Many of these phones are photography-focused and promote:

From 2007 to today, Apple has shown a remarkable talent for innovation that both creates new consumer behavior and pivots when consumers demonstrate what they’re really interested in (and are willing to pay for). And the entire Internet is a more visual place because of it.

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