Yesterday, Google release pivot tables for Google Apps spreadsheets. Any power user of Excel knows about pivot tables, and has used them for years, if not longer. I have seen a large number of articles in the last day mocking Google’s making a big deal of pivot tables; after all, Excel has had them for so long, there is nothing innovative about them.
I beg to differ. True, there is nothing innovative in the concept, but implementation, especially on a Web scale, is not simple either. Getting pivot tables to work right in a Web app and to be usable by customers without requiring intensive walk-throughs and handholding – most Excel power users remember (if they are honest) the difficulty in getting their head around using it the first time – is not rocket science, but not a trivial exercise either.
Clayton Christensen, in his brilliant “Innovator’s” series of books, argued that to disrupt an existing market and compete with a well-established and entrenched player, all you need is a solution that is “good enough” for a significant minority, but that is easier to use and/or lower cost. While the established player will laugh at the feeble competition attempt due to lower quality and/or features, for many less-demanding users, this solution is good enough at a lower cost. The established player will be happy to be rid of the low-margin customers, who regularly complain that they don’t want to pay more for all of the high-end features anyways. Eventually, the low-end competitor will be able to grow and add features, but at the lower cost, eventually displacing the established player. Rather than taking them head on, the disruptor eats at the foundations.
Google Spreadsheet, for many applications, was good enough. Microsoft and power users can laugh, mock and disparage, but for many users and applications, it simply is good enough. As a result, it takes the lower end, and eventually adds features that move it up-scale. I believe that is precisely what is happening here. Pivot Tables is the first “power feature” to be added. It won’t be the last.