Innovating from the Old(s)

During Apple’s WWDC 2010, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4. As is customary at these events, he walked through all the details on phone – both hardware and software, inside and out.
At one point in the presentation (about 33:15), Jobs pointed out breaks in the outer shell of the phone, something that seemed very un-Apple.
He went on to explain that while these pieces did serve as “the primary structural element of the phone” they also were the antennas for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS as well as for UMTS and GSM mobile bands.
This reminded me of my friend Bryan’s 1980 Delta 88 in high school. I was riding in the car with him one day, and I noticed these two wires embedded inside the windshield.
I couldn’t find any decent shots online, but Bryan (former owner of said Olds) did:
I asked him what they were. He told me it was antenna for the radio. Sure enough, he was right, and unlike most cars at the time, his Delta 88 didn’t have an external antenna sticking straight out of hood or trunk.
While these two examples don’t match up perfectly (the windshield isn’t part of the car frame), they illustrate my point that when you’re innovating, it’s not always necessary to solve your problem completely fresh. In many cases someone has solved your problem. Maybe in a different context and industry, but translatable to your product.