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A great product?

May 1, 2008

I recently bought my mum a fancy microwave oven for her birthday, one with a control panel looks like a spaceship control. My mum, the uncomplicated person that she is, was overwhlemed by array of buttons and displays. I only need to know where the on-off button is, she said. To her cooking means to apply heat and the only thing to worry about is whether its big heat or small heat, that’s all.

She has a point. Take my watch. I bought it for just one purpose – to tell the time. And what did I end up buying? A gadget that had an alarm, calendar, memory, stopwatch, timer, mutliple time zones, moon phase calculator and a bunch of other things. Sure I had a whale of a time at first but now I only use it for two things – to tell the time and to occasionally use the alarm.

Look at your mobile phone. How many of its functions do you really use? 20%? 30%?

We developers love technology and we rush to market with it but are we missing the point? I think we are.

To see the worst of feature greed, just grab any cheap Made In China consumer gadget. Obviously someone out there believes the more stuff you cram into a device, the more attractive it becomes. Like the moon phase calculator on my watch, most of that stuff adds really nothing tangible to the consumers lives other than to satisfy some personal curiosity (it works!) or to make a high-tech fashion statement.

What product houses tend to forget is that when you set aside all the small novelties (and believe me people get tired of these things easily), its user experience that make them stay. Technology is merely an enabler, an enhancer of efficiency. People don’t stick to a gadget simply because of technology. What they want are the benefits made possible by the technology. The only problem is it leads developers right back to the subjective realm of feelings and emotions, an alien playing field. If you have any doubt, imagine a couple of nerdy Java programmers trying to figure out if a ringtone is pleasant to a teenager or not. Heh heh :).

My previous blog entry about my problems with the latest Ubuntu 8.04 operating system illustrates such a disconnect between techies and users. One one side, people ask what is the point of great technology if people its targeted to get frustrated using it? On the other, techies can’t figure out why users are dissatisfied with such an advanced Linux distro.

I’ll say it again, as far as consumers are concerned it is superior user experience that makes a product great, not superior technology. Audiophiles still prefer vinyl records over CD and I still prefer my burgers grilled over hot charcoal than zapped by microwave. Yup, perfection to us is more art than science. If only more product developers understood that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2008 5:22 am

    Reading this reminds me of the story about the Russians using a pencil in space instead of spending millions inventing a pen that could write in any condition that the Americans tried to do.

    That also reminds me of a friend who paid RM2000 for a cellphone with 20 features when he needed only 3; to make calls, send messages and keep a reminder.

  2. Damien permalink*
    May 2, 2008 9:20 pm

    Yeah its easy to get excited over small stuff and lose perspective on purpose isn’t it. Businesses understand this consumer mindlessness very well, that’s why the market is awash with things we don’t need.

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