Apple is the second most innovative company in the world, according Fast Company’s 2015 rankings.
Apple was #14 in the Fast Company’s 2014 rankings, while Google placed first. Fast Company attributes Apple’s success in 2014 to its different software refinements that make its existing hardware more powerful. Both iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite brought many features to both developers and consumers.
It’s too early to judge the long-term impact of all these features, given that they depend on what other companies do with them. Still, they’re evidence that Tim Cook’s Apple is developing its own character—one deeply influenced by Steve Jobs, but not slavishly so. Jobs, after all, was fond of boasting that Apple was the only outfit in the tech industry that was solely responsible for “the whole widget”—hardware, software, and services, all integrated into a seamless experience. With iOS 8, Apple is loosening its control over future widgets in ways that its control-freak cofounder might have rejected. But they’re putting Apple even more boldly at the center of “the whole widget” of our technology-powered lives.
Fast Company named Warby Parker, the online eyeglasses website, the most innovative company in their 2015 rankings.
The top 10 rankings include:
1. Warby Parker
FOR BUILDING THE FIRST GREAT MADE-ON-THE-INTERNET BRAND.
Over the past five years, scads of e-commerce startups have shown early promise and then promptly crashed back to earth. Groupon added new markets around the world and even bought Super Bowl ads without, apparently, bothering to pay attention to whether customers were actually happy with the service. Fab’s Jason Goldberg seemed to think he could build a high-design Amazon in a matter of months rather than years, even if it meant dumbing down his product line. But Warby Parker has avoided this fate—not thanks to its clever vertically integrated, buy-one-give-one business model, but because of its founders’ fanatical focus on brand and execution. “We’re often asked why Warby has been successful,” co-CEO Neil Blumenthal says. “If we sum it up in one word, it’s deliberate.”
FOR CREATING MAGIC WITH MINUTIAE.
Apple’s history of innovation is defined by the epoch-shifting gadgets it launches at splashy media events—the first iPhone in 2007, for instance, or the Apple Watch last September. And the continued breathtaking success of the iPhone—74.5 million sold in the last three months of 2014, driving the most profitable quarter of any company in history—can overshadow an underappreciated truth about Apple’s good fortune: Many of the company’s most meaningful accomplishments don’t make for particularly memorable stagecraft. That’s because they’re about subtle software refinements that make its existing hardware products more useful.
FOR HELPING CONSUMERS SAVE, SPEND, AND BE ENTERTAINED.
The West has a simple narrative about Alibaba: In that telling, it’s a Chinese e-commerce giant that raised $25 billion in an IPO in New York last fall, and is a sort of eBay-Amazon-Paypal hydra. But in China, the company run by CEO Jack Ma is far more ambitious: Last year it began targeting and remaking some of the country’s most moneyed industries, from banking to entertainment. Its Internet finance arm, Yu’e Bao, looks to have the earliest impact: It offers Alipay customers higher returns than state-run banks that pay paltry interest rates, and, starved for investment options, the masses responded in droves by putting in $82 billion in the first year.
FOR MAKING THE HIT LAPTOP NOBODY SAW COMING.
“A chintzy laptop with a browser for an operating system? What a stupid idea.” That was pretty much the reaction from the tech community in June 2011 when Google announced Chromebooks. They were under-specced and utterly useless without an Internet connection. Dead on arrival. But flash-forward three years and suddenly Chromebook sales cracked 5.2 million units in 2014 alone, a number that, according to Gartner, may nearly triple by 2017.
FOR ITS BEAUTIFUL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FASHION INDUSTRY.
Back in 2011, when Oscar de la Renta and his peers were Instagramming backstage at Fashion Week, the platform’s involvement was pure luck. But now it actively positions itself as the fashion world’s infinitely scrolling newsreel, one sign of how it stokes its hypergrowth and is creating a premium product inside Facebook. Instagram develops partnerships in the fashion industry with the help of a fashion and art community leader: advertising agency vet Kristen Joy Watts, who had previously co-launched Lens, the New York Times’s photo blog. Watts spotlights the most creative fashion houses, off-duty models, professional photographers, bloggers, and tastemakers, in order to inspire others to see Instagram as having the power to transform their popularity. In tandem, a team led by Sara Wilson manages Instagram’s fashion and lifestyle partnerships.
6. Color of Change
FOR CREATING A CIVIL RIGHTS GROUP FOR THE 21ST CENTURY.
During the 11-day span between the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions late last year—both cases in which a white police officer killed an unarmed black man and was not criminally charged—more than 130,000 outraged citizens signed up with ColorOfChange.org. That cemented the organization, which uses Internet tools to advocate for the rights of black people, at the center of one of our era’s defining cultural movements. Rather than providing Rev. Jesse Jackson–style spokesmanship, ColorOfChange.org launches what it calls campaigns—petitions, images to share on social media, or boycotts—that users can partake in. Its causes span everything from education to media accountability. In response to Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, it launched 15 campaigns that triggered 1 million responses. “In some ways [our success] is a recognition of the changing of the guard,” says Rashad Robinson, the organization’s executive director. “People don’t want top-down organizing. People are not joiners in the same way they used to be. What they want is to move in and out of campaigns that matter to them.”
FOR MAKING ITSELF THE BELLE OF THE STREAMING-TV BALL.
The premium cable network’s subscriber base grew more in 2014 than in any year in the last 30, thanks to its continued international expansion, a string of new hit shows (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Silicon Valley, True Detective), and CEO Richard Plepler’s deft maneuvering that makes HBO the envy of the rapidly shifting media landscape. Now it is unleashing its streaming service, HBO Go. Sometime this year, viewers will be able to purchase access to HBO programming and archives, which the company hopes will win it 10 million to 20 million new customers. Plepler has been opening up the network for a while now. Witness AT&T’s offer from last September: broadband, a year of Amazon Prime, and HBO Go for $39 a month. Last April, HBO signed a surprising deal to license some of its shows to Amazon. “I had a hunch that there were a lot of voters out there who were undecided because they didn’t fully understand the range or the value of the brand,” Plepler says. “We want to work with our partners, but we also want to work with new partners.”
8. Virgin America
FOR PERFECTING CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR AN INNOVATIVE CLIENTELE.
Virgin America is the only airline based in Silicon Valley, and it has learned to think like its disruptive clientele: “We see ourselves as more of an incubator,” says chief marketing officer Luanne Calvert. It has experimented with everything from in-flight social networks to rethinking how to buy tickets, and the rewards are Valley-like: revenue of $6 million and a $306 million IPO.
FOR MAKING IT FEEL GOOD TO FLY CHEAP.
It took a spunky airline to demonstrate that even in India’s crowded aviation market, low fares do not necessarily beget low-quality service. The no-frills IndiGo has blossomed into the country’s largest airline—it took delivery of its 100th aircraft in November 2014 and reached a high of 33% market share—as well as its rare profitable one. The 10-year-old airline has flown 82 million passengers with 550 daily flights, and is in a prime position for the future: India is forecast to become the world’s third-largest aviation market by 2020 and the largest by 2030.
FOR SLAYING INTEROFFICE EMAIL.
More than a decade ago, Stewart Butterfield set out to create an ambitious online game with his wife at the time, Caterina Fake. It didn’t go anywhere. But the photo-sharing service they invented on the side, Flickr, turned out to be a keeper. History repeated when Butterfield again tried to create an online game and ended up producing Slack, a collaborative messaging platform for business use that has become a phenomenon since its launch in August 2013.
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