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Product development: the good, the bad and the ugly

There are many commercial risks associated with new products, whether they are an adaption of existing designs or a completely new concept. Most new products fail in the marketplace. Ironically, in some cases failure is because the firm is too far ahead of the market in terms of perceived need. Customers may not fully understand the technology, or indeed the requirement that the product satisfies. The market is littered with failed inventions, where customers were not yet ready for the change in their behaviour or lifestyle that the product required. As Theodore Leavitt explained, customers rarely want the product itself; what they want is a solution to a need or problem.

Time magazine features its 50 best inventions of 2010 including some of 'the year's biggest (and coolest) breakthroughs in science, technology and the arts'. The list includes potential life changing ideas that we all crave and others that we may not. One of the products featured is the Chinese straddling bus, set to revolutionise public transport. Another is an invention that may not please your teachers; a rather colourful androgynous bot - robot that is - set to teach English in 18 South Korean schools. Is it possible that the red-lipped, punk hair-styled android is set to replace the human teacher in the classroom?

No new invention collection is complete without the latest version of the jet pack. This has been part of our vision of the future since the 1920s. The Time site includes a short visual history of the jet pack.

Other exciting new product developments include spray on clothes, body-powered devices and a laser especially designed to zap mosquitoes through the signature of their wing beats. The question is which of these innovations will actually make it commercially? Well since the list includes the iPad, it is safe to say at least one!

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Written assignment

Select one of the Top 50 Time Magazine Inventions of 2010.

  1. Using suitable examples distinguish between the terms 'invention' and 'innovation'.
  2. Explain how the selected product's USP can be used to identify possible target markets.
  3. Analyse the role of branding in the successful commercialisation of this product.
  4. Evaluate the methods of market research that can be conducted to support its launch.

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The following video details the 50 best inventions of 2010:

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The 5 worst inventions of 2009 as rated by time Magazine

The following is a light-hearted look at failed inventions: