How the App Store Recasts the Consumer as the Innovator

The convergence of mobile and social technology is nothing new.

But according to Mack Institute Senior Fellow Scott Snyder, mobile technology is disrupting marketplaces and organizations in unprecedented ways. In just a few years, we’ve moved far beyond using mobile technology to simply keep in touch; Snyder cites examples of an app that can actually be prescribed for managing disease, and another that allows users to collectively generate real-time data for better decision-making. So what’s behind this seismic shift, and what should companies do about it?

The dramatic effect of many million smartphone adopters in recent years can hardly be overstated. What Snyder finds more interesting than the technology itself, though, is the advent of the app store. This model gave not just service providers but also consumers a platform for creating customer solutions. Suddenly, ordinary users could become the inventors. “The app store model really democratized innovation so that anyone with a good idea could become an innovator,” he argues.

In light of this change, Snyder maintains that incumbent firms need to embrace an “outside-in” mentality in order to thrive. This means putting the user first in all things. Companies must fully understand the user’s needs and experiences, and fully incorporate the user’s perspective in all stages of the innovation process. Although he acknowledges that this may be difficult for large, centralized companies to do (an opinion not universally shared), it’s an essential adaptation for survival in the new customer-centric environment.

“Apps have to be useful, usable, and desirable to really make an impact; they have to solve the user’s problem, so that requires understanding the user’s deepest needs.”

Another challenge, Snyder concedes, is the difficulty of pivoting strategies when the short-term ROI is unclear. He cautions patience, however, and instead advises cultivating the habits of long-term innovation success. Incumbents “have to take the leap of faith,” he urges, because otherwise they’ll find themselves merely trying to differentiate themselves from the competitor who took the leap first.