Businesses that make material goods like 3M and Corning _have_ to innovate. If you don't keep innovating, you're going to lose your lead in established products (post-it notes, corningware) to China or WallMart.
Apple has a similar story with Android phones. Keep innovating or get your low-end eaten.
Google doesn't have to innovate. They're already China. If somebody makes something they like, they'll buy it. Or make a knock-off.
Yahoo has been, on the whole, an astonishingly successful company; they may not have been as sexy as those we cover here, but they've kept plodding along. Stuff like this is why I think Yahoo will outlast Google in the long run.
Exactly. If Yahoo was such a failure, we wouldn't be talking about them. There were many other very similar companies that were founded about the same time as Yahoo. Some got acquired (including some by Google or Yahoo) and more just died, but all essentially lost the race and even those of us who were around at the time barely remember them any more.
Yahoo has survived, and made a lot of money for a lot of stakeholders over the years. I would also say that they have a better record than Google when it comes to privacy, legal entanglements, and general good open-source citizenship. Yahoo is a success story. Anyone who presents it otherwise is just putting their own lack of perspective and/or business sense on display.
While Google does have a Borg-like aspect, I think they do still need to innovate.
What is more, it's clear the founders are still very keen to push the limits of innovation.
Maybe, as has been said by others, they are not shutting this down but restricting it. In effect, they're replacing most of the 20% time with acquisitions but they do still have the process alive to enable some internal innovation.
The examples you mention for 3M and Corning are valid patent reasons. If a company is going to productize their invention, they should have some protection. They are encouraged to innovate because of the patent process. The same does not apply to Apple and Google.
Additionally, Corning sold off the Corningware brand to a non-research focused company. They've pivoted again, and their research (and relationships with Apple and Google) have allowed them to continue to be successful.
Which I suspect is doing Corning some brand damage. Pyrex(TM) used to be really tough low-expansion borosilicate glass, or perhaps properly tempered soda-lime glass, truly great stuff. Now outside of Europe and lab glassware it's non-tempered generic soda-lime glass, which is injuring quite a few people: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2008/08/pyrex.html
The main difference in my mind is that innovation in software is relatively cheap compared to innovation in material goods. With material goods, the only way to know if your innovation works is to make a bunch of it and hope it sells. Software just wastes a little employee time and maybe a bit of server space/bandwidth. Plus, with software even if the whole project fails you can often recover parts of it to use elsewhere.