With product launches, especially in the tech industry, timing is everything. Research in Motion's latest product announcement is a perfect example. After seemingly endless months of delay, RIM showed its new BlackBerry 10 operating system to developers at its annual conference.

There were some pretty cool features, including a more natural way to go from one app to another, intelligent-sounding gestures in the user interface, and a time-shifting camera that will take a series of photos to let you scroll back to a better one, should subjects suddenly blink at the wrong moment or the wind whip hair across their faces. RIM even promised developers $10,000 an app in first year sales, with the company writing checks if the cash doesn't come in.

And yet, RIM's stock has hit an 8-year low. Whether the developers were impressed or not, clearly the investors weren't.

It almost seems like RIM can't get a break. But the problem isn't what it showed so much as when it showed. Smart marketing and innovation depend on timing. Too late or too soon and you might as well not do it at all. The trick is to find the factors that help define what the right timing is.

The 4 factors of smart timing

At launch time:

  • You offer features that customers understand.
  • You offer features that matter to customers now.
  • You give a solid reason why your features, which are core and not superfluous, trump those of a competitor.
  • You're close to shipping the product, otherwise you're dealing with vaporware that no one will be able to buy.

RIM is a perfect example of terrible and late timing. Management fiddled while Apple and then Google set the market on fire. It slipped major deadlines time and time again. When it did finally show its new software, they could boast some good features and even a great one: the camera. However, all that was minor compared to what had previously come from competitors. That is particularly true given that RIM wants to focus again on corporate clients, and how important is getting a picture of people when they aren't blinking?

Being too early can be just as big a problem. Friendster flopped, even though it pioneered many aspects of social networking that Facebook has leveraged to success. It might have been the difference between the high tech insider audience that Friendster pursued and Facebook's strategy of becoming popular among students and then depending on youth-oriented culture to bring in the adults.

Decades ago, I can remember a company that developed a completely visual programming tool. Non-programmers could click and drag components together to build software. Only, the power of PCs wasn't great enough then to make the process move swiftly and to turn out something that looked impressive. The company eventually got acquired and the product, dropped. Today, with the so-called consumerization of corporate IT, such a product might gain traction.

Even Apple got burned when it introduced the handheld Newton. Neither technology nor people were yet ready for mobile personal computing on that level. Years later, Palm was able to take over the PDA market with better timing.

So, innovate? Absolutely. But, like your golf swing, make sure your timing is right. Otherwise, you could send your great idea right into a sand trap.