The LAB: Innovating the iPhone with Attribute Dependency (September 2008)

by | Sep 28, 2008 | Creativity Tools, Technology, The Wheel | 0 comments


Here are ten innovations for the iPhone that I would love to see.  I created these using the Attribute Dependency tool.  It is the most powerful of the five tools of Systematic Inventive Thinking, but also the most difficult to learn.

To use Attribute Dependency, we start by making two lists.  The first is a list of internal attributes of the iPhone.  The second is a list of external attributes – those factors that are not under the control of the manufacturer (Apple, in this case), but that vary in the context of how the product or service is used.  Then we create a matrix with the internal and external attributes on one axis, and the internal attributes only on the other axis.  This matrix forces the combinations of internal-to-internal and internal-to-external attributes that we will use to innovate.

That’s the hard part.  Now the fun begins.  We take these virtual combinations and envision them in two ways.  If no dependency exists between the attributes, we create one.  If a dependency exists, we break it.  Using Function Follows Form, we envision what the benefit or potential value might be from the new (or broken) dependency between the two attributes.

The matrix that you develop using this tool can become quite large.  To make it easier, you can download the one I used for this exercise and follow along with the innovations below.  I put the number corresponding to each idea in the appropriate cell of the matrix.  Here are the ideas along with the attribute dependencies that led to the idea:

1.  CARRIER-CONTEXT:  Allow users to switch wireless carriers depending on whether phone calls are business or personal.  Pre-select which phone numbers go through which carrier in the iPhone’s Contacts.  This makes it easier for people to keep track of phone expenses and allows enterprises to control and monitor costs more accurately.  Same could be done for email addresses.

2.  FUNCTION-CONTEXT:  iPhone apps re-arrange automatically on the desktop depending on the context of use (with friends, family, co-workers, or myself).  For example, with co-workers, the apps become more business related (conferencing, calculator, tools, timer, meeting planning, notes, etc).  Geo-sensing tells the phone who you are with, then changes appropriately.

3.  VOLUME-LOCATION:  The iPhone goes to silent mode automatically depending on where it is (in conference rooms, churches, the boss’s office, etc), or switches to a louder mode in places like the car, grocery store, or other noisy environments.

4.  JOB-FUNCTION:  The iPhone is customized with apps depending on job, profession, or job type.  A health care worker, for example, might have an iPhone that is optimized for a hospital setting (updated information about patient location, records, medications, potential cost savings, infection risks, etc).Iphone

5.  LOCATION-LINKAGES:  Wi-fi and other linkages (carrier, email client, SMS) change depending on location to optimize for the situation.  For example, wi-fi would turn off for certain networks that are password protected so the phone stays connected to the cellular network.  Saves time from having to switch back and forth manually.

6.  BATTERY LIFE-TIME:  The user can switch to a “battery conservation mode” that will power down features not needed (color screen goes to black and white, wi-fi off, vibration off).  Or, the iPhone does it automatically depending on time of day such as at nighttime.  For travelers who like to keep the phone on all night in their hotel room, this would save time and battery life.

7.  CAPACITY-RANGE:  Enable iPhone to “borrow” the optical disk space of a nearby Mac of PC much like the MacBook Air does.

8.  PHOTO QUALITY-BROWSER TYPE:  This is an odd one, but that is the beauty of this tool – it makes you put together combinations of attributes you would not think of.  In this case, the iPhone would allow you to vary the photo quality to load into different browser types or features.

9.  MUSIC SOURCE-LOCATION:  The iPhone would recognize when it is in an airplane, restaurant, store, concert, museum, or other venue, and it would pick up the music or broadcast that is streaming just within that venue.  It might include advertising or other useful information relevant to the venue (example: restaurant menu specials, airport flight delays, museum closing time, etc).

10.  FUNCTION-LOCATION:  The iPhone “shopping buddy” would tell you what items on your shopping list to get in a certain order to save the most time.  It would suggest items on sale as substitutes for what’s on your list.  It would tell you what checkout line is fastest, and it would know how much you are about to spend.  Perhaps it could link right to PayPal and complete the checkout process for you.

To learn this tool, consider taking a course such as the one being offered next month in Chicago.  I’ll be there!