(Wired) -- For the third year in a row, Apple was named number one in management consulting firm Booz & Company's annual survey of the top 10 most innovative companies.
Almost 80 percent of the respondents in the 700-company survey (.pdf) named Apple as one of the top three most innovative companies in the world. Google, which took the second spot overall, ahead of 3M, was listed in the top three by 43 percent of respondents.
But what is innovation? How can it be quantified, and what does it mean that Apple comes out on top? Reticle Research analyst Ross Rubin notes there are different kinds of innovation, and different companies excel in different areas.
"Apple's innovation focuses on bringing together different parts of an ecosystem and tightly integrating them together with meticulous attention to detail" Rubin told Wired via e-mail. "They refine consumer capabilities in an approachable offering with broad appeal."
Samsung, number four on Booz's list, takes a different approach than Apple, making a point to incorporate the latest technologies into its products, like large OLED displays and NFC.
"Other companies, like Dell, focus on relatively unglamorous innovation in process and manufacturing," Rubin said. And then there are companies like Google, whose innovation is largely left to prototypes and concepts, things like Project Glass.
"I think Apple is a leading innovator among tech companies — but innovation comes from many companies, and it's easy to point to clear examples from many of Apple's competitors," Forrester analyst Charles Golvin told Wired.
"A big distinction for Apple is the breadth of areas in which it innovates: hardware, industrial design, software, usability, retail. Many of its competitors are strong in one or more of these areas but not across the board."
Interestingly, innovation (at least in the surveyors' eyes) is not tied with R&D spending. Apple's absolute R&D expenditures rank it 16th within its industry. Microsoft, the top R&D spender in the software and Internet area, was ranked as the sixth most innovative company.
In recent months, Apple has come under criticism for its products being largely "evolutionary," rather than "revolutionary" (and even, in some respects, "utterly boring"). Because of Apple's history of innovation, many of us hold higher expectations for Apple than for its competitors.
Golvin thinks Apple will continue to be a leader in innovation in the coming years, despite doubts about the company now that Steve Jobs is out of the picture. "[Jobs'] leadership and imprimatur persist in the people that he hired, like Jony Ive," Golvin said.
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