Mobile phones look very different now than they did ten years ago. With access to all of the design patents available from the US Patent & Trademark Office (including ones from products in the telecommunications industry), Tian Heong Chan, assistant professor of information systems & operations management, and coauthors Jürgen Mihm (INSEAD) and Manuel E. Sosa (INSEAD) show how one can cluster them according to their visual similarities. The process results in an evolutionary timeline charting the successive styles of mobile phones from “clamshell” to “touchscreen slate” and everything in between. This approach creates a novel data platform from which researchers can start testing hypotheses about how product forms evolve. With the data, the authors show that there is increasing turbulence (or unpredictability in the change in product forms) across all product categories. In other words, it is much harder now than in the past to predict what the next hot style will be based on current trends. This is especially salient in non-tech categories, such as furniture and fashion. The authors conclude that companies with the capability to manage this increasing uncertainty will have a significant competitive advantage in the future.
Tian Heong Chan Assistant Professor of Information Systems & Operations Management