I Thought Of It First. But They Already Had It. | Bruce Turkel

Do you ever get a call on your smartphone that you can’t return right away? Let’s say you’re in a meeting and your Mom calls. Of course you want to take the call but it would be rude. And you don’t want to let your Mom wait and wonder why you’re not calling her back.
Well I have too. And after it happened a few times, I started thinking of solutions. After all, I figured if it happens to me it must happen to others as well. Before long I came up with the idea of creating an iPhone app to solve this problem. My plan was for it to look something like the sketch you see here:

When the phone rang, you’d simply press a button and select between preset messages that you could automatically text back or send as a voicemail message.

I checked the app-verse and couldn’t find anything like my idea available. So I interviewed some iPhone and Android app developers and finally selected a programmer to work on the project, code-named SMS Back. I accepted the payment terms, initiated the project, and started researching the world of app marketing to make sure I could sell my idea. Oh yeah, I also pestered the developer to get the programming done already.

Well wouldn’t you know it, today our IT guy sent me a release about Apple’s new iOS6 operating system and its big selling point is…my idea! Here’s how they put it:

“iOS 6 adds new calling features to your iPhone. Now when you decline an incoming call, you can instantly reply with a text message or set a callback reminder.”

Here’s how it looks:

Of course, Apple didn’t get the idea from me – my app wasn’t far enough along for anyone else to know about it and Apple doesn’t usually lurk around my office looking for new ideas anyway. But as one of my friends pointed out, “at least you’re thinking like Apple.”

Instead, the whole exercise reminds me of the movie Nightshift. Remember when Michael Keaton’s character, Billy Blazejowski, was telling Henry Winkler’s character what a brilliant guy he was? Billy Blaze was so smart he’d even invented Post-It® Notes. As he said: “I thought of it first, but they already had them.”

That’s the problem with good ideas based on available technology and specific consumer demands. They tend to hit different people at the same time. It’s why historians argue over who invented the automobile, Daimler or Peugeot. It’s why other inventors claimed Tesla’s and Marconi’s patents were actually theirs – the ideas were assembled in an ecosystem ripe for that specific innovation and multiple innovators were working on them at the same time.

Needless to say I’m disappointed that I’m not going to become an app magnate but I am looking forward to adding this functionality to my iPhone. And while I’m not going to earn a commission from Apple’s latest innovation, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I thought of it first. Even though they already had it.

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