Comfort zones, Iterations, Innovations and Product Design

Apple iPhone = a single button menu system and one of the best mobiles ever. Yet mobile phones are out 20 years. But it’s actually a portable computer with phone properties. Not that the general consumer knows or cares. Nokia marketed their N95 phone to people as a computer in your pocket. And how many of the world did that discourage from buying it with that phrase alone? How many don’t use all the poweful features of it because it treats the menu system like a computer menu system with half a dozen clicks to do something?

Oddly it seems the iPhone takes away choice from people by just doing what it wants. With an N95 it’s menu menu rotate to turn the image sideways, the iPhone does it automatically whether you like it or not. Despite all the other phone companies having mobiles that did mobile Internet it was the iPhone that exploded use of the mobile web in the past year. On a slower connection and less powerful phone…

Look at the Wii. You turn it on. Move the Wiimote and you know exactly what happens. Point at screen, move it about and you know the rest. Yet you’re there playing a computer game with a totally new interface.

Admittedly of course like Apple, Nintendo’s ads are very much like instructional videos too so pre-training new customers is good.

mmm... ear piecing
Photo owned by lorelei (cc)

There seems to be an issue with tech that if you upset the small enough comfort zones of the general public then they won’t buy your product. It does seem to be true. Something very upsetting to the engineers and early adopters who understand the power of these new innovations yet can’t understand why the general public can’t see how great this new thing is. I mean all you have to do is press this, twist that, press this three times and we’re off. Now press this fast to stop it. There. Over time I think this is why we’re seeing so many godforsaken shit web services and pieces of techwank come out which are all clones or tiny iterations of products that we already have. Nothing new is introduced or combined. Perish the thought. So much of these new things launched are just features. That makes the consumer comfortable. And the investors. And pisses off those that remain in the company that enjoy their ingenuity. And early adopters that scream for something new.

Pat Phelan asked are we (I guess he means humanity or the tech world) over-innovating. I don’t think we are. I think we’re scarificing innovation for over-iterating and becoming far too comfortable about making consumers feel comfortable about things remaining the same when we should be innovating on new tech and innovating on ways of introducing this new tech while the customer is almost oblivious. Design a product with underlying innovation so the consumer knows all about how to use it within 5 seconds of picking it up. This is what the iPhone does, it’s what the Wii does, it is not what the N95 does or Microsoft Powerpoint. An engineer won’t like how limited an iPhone is but a consumer doesn’t want to think they will have to change the way they work for the N95. An innovation is not product design. I think too many take that to mean that we should iterate.

Here’s a very long video that eventually sees Steve Jobs introduce the iMac, 10 years ago this week:

6 Responses to “Comfort zones, Iterations, Innovations and Product Design”

  1. Smoke says:

    Would you buy a new house every year? Or would you extend, renovate, replant the garden etc. when you need to improve. You can’t deny that the drive to iterate rather than total innovation is driven my the requirement for investment protection – particularly in a business context.

  2. TenaciousT says:

    Agree that the public only want something they can understand quickly…has worked out to my benefit though since I just got a free Xda Exec from a guy who couldn’t figure it out. Physically a bit of a brick and Windows Mobile OS not particularly user friendly for somebody looking for just a phone. Noticed that HTC have come out with a new Diamond Touch phone- will be interesting to see if it’s going to be a serious competitor for the iPhone.

  3. 73man says:

    I got to get me one of those iMac computers. It does all the internets.

  4. roosta says:

    Great points.

    Simplicity is the way forward, get straight to the point. The Wii was a master stroke, cause Nintendo brought it back to what its supposed to be about; the GAMES. Getting into an XBox 360 game is overly complicated. The Wii? Point at game and click. Job done.

    Apple too have run with this idea, the “plug and play” option. Its what (most of us) want.

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