What is disruptive technology?

A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is a term describing a technological innovation, product, or service that uses a "disruptive" strategy, rather than an "evolutionary" or "sustaining" strategy, to overturn the existing dominant technologies or status quo products in a market. Disruptive innovations can be broadly classified into low-end and new-market disruptive innovations. A new-market disruptive innovation is often aimed at non-consumption, whereas a lower-end disruptive innovation is aimed at mainstream customers who were ignored by established companies. It has been systematically shown to the research community that most disruptive innovations are in a minority compared to revolutionary innovations which introduce an innovation of higher performance to the market. Examples of true disruptive innovations, ie. innovations that are lower in performance and lower cost, succeeding are rare. Occasionally, a disruptive technology comes to dominate an existing market by either filling a role in a new market that the older technology could not fill (as cheaper, lower capacity but smaller-sized flash memory is doing for personal data storage in the 2000s) or by successively moving up-market through performance improvements until finally displacing the market incumbents (as digital photography has largely replaced film photography).

By contrast, a "revolutionary technology" introduces products with highly improved new features into the market. This is the innovation that most often replaces the incumbent [automobile - horse drawn vehicle]. In addition, a "sustaining technology or innovation" improves product performance of established products. Sustaining technologies are often incremental; however, they can also be radical or discontinuous.