What Is a Fundamentally New Product?
A fundamentally new product gives customers the ability to do something that no existing product can. When they see a fundamentally new product, in fact, people view it less as a product and more as an invention. For this reason, it is a product that breaks new ground and, sometimes, creates a new industry.
However, few products are fundamentally new. Most have competitors with similar features that offer similar results. The typical innovative product takes a novel approach with functionality offered by other products. In other words, most product innovation is only incremental instead of creating a new product category from scratch.
To qualify as fundamentally new, a product must do one of the following:
- First, introduce a new technology or process that gives users functionality not yet available on the market.
- Use existing technologies in new ways to give users functionality they’ve never had before.
What Are Examples of Fundamentally New Products?
Let’s review two real-world examples, one from each of the categories listed above.
The Segway: inventing a technology to give the market something new.
The Segway was a “self-balancing personal transporter,” as its inventor, Dean Kamen, described it. (Production ended on the product in 2020.) The idea behind the two-wheeled scooter was to give city dwellers a new, fun way to get around. So instead of walking to the grocery store, they could ride an upright scooter safely on the sidewalk.
Aside from its unique futuristic look, the Segway was the first scooter to offer self-balancing technology. Kamen’s engineering team also invented the gyroscopes that enabled the Segway to adjust its position and speed to match the rider’s movements. Thus, this was truly a new product.
The Amazon Echo: bringing together existing technologies to create something new.
Amazon’s Echo is an example of a fundamentally new product that leveraged tools and technologies already available but uniquely combined them to develop a solution the market had never seen.
Now known as Alexa, the product is a virtual artificial intelligence assistant built into a smart speaker for the home.
Logitech and Sonos created the smart speaker in the early 2000s. Bell Labs invented speech recognition technology in the 1950s. (Fun fact: When they first embedded this tech into an electronic device, the scientists named it Audrey. The original Alexa?) Many researchers and scientists share credit for creating artificial intelligence.
But Amazon brought together these digital technologies to create a fundamentally new product. They introduced a consumer device that sits on our kitchen counter and, through voice-activated commands, lets us control our home’s music playlists and lighting and even add to our grocery list.
What Are the Risks and Benefits of Building a Fundamentally New Product?
The big risk of launching a fundamentally new product: what if no one wants it?
The major risk of building this type of product is that it will fail to find a user base.
When they set out to build a product with no competitors on the market, the product team will be disadvantaged. Because by definition, a fundamentally new product has no market history to indicate whether it will find willing customers.
The Apple Newton
One example was Apple’s Newton—the company’s first electronic tablet. At the time, a digital note-taking device was such a novel idea that consumers couldn’t see how they would use it. For this reason, Newton failed to find an audience. It did, however, lead to the iPad, one of the top-selling electronic devices ever.
The big benefit of launching a fundamentally new product: you could own the market you create.
Ford and Mercedes-Benz
Whether you credit the invention of the automobile to Karl Benz’s 1885 patent for a gas-powered motor car or Henry Ford’s Quadricycle 11 years later, the fact remains that the people who brought the world the automobile owned that market for generations.