Adam Mc

Thoughts on the web.

A Lesson in Simple


When the iPhone was released in June of 2007 those paying close attention will remember that it arrived to joyous criticism. To the industry it was a phone that had a bunch of sexy extra features. It was celebrated for it’s new hotness like iTunes, iPod and YouTube integration and it’s modern desktop-like web browser.

But in key ways it was inferior to everything else in the market: It did SMS (but not MMS), it didn’t allow 3rd party apps, and you couldn’t even run more than 1 application at the same time! This lack of features is something that would, over time, end up defining the iPhone. Even now it has a smaller screen than it’s competitors, has limited multitasking and is lacking modern tech like NFC. While millions of people went on to buy the iPhone when it was released there were millions more that would look at what it didn’t do and spend their money elsewhere.

I was among those mostly unimpressed when the iPhone was released. In fact, the next week I bought a BlackBerry Curve. In my opinion the iPhone just didn’t do enough, was too expensive and most importantly it was missing some key features that I considered critical to my needs. What I didn’t fully realize or appreciate at the time was that it was that by not including those features Apple was just insuring their own success.

The success of any technology – hardware or software – relies not just on what it CAN do but how WELL it can do it. Apple only included features in the first iPhone that it was sure could be done exceptionally well. They didn’t waste time with a buggy feature just so they could get credit for having it on the spec sheet. If that meant a feature didn’t make the cut – so be it.

By focusing on doing a few things extremely well they ensured that those who did purchase it had no complaints about what it DID do – only what it didn’t. They created a platform where excellence was the standard and where the quality of a function reigned over the quantity of functions.

Since 2007 there have been 1,000s of new glassy black rectangles released. Each one of them more powerful than the last and each one capable of being your own personal media hub. And today competitor’s devices do 100’s of things that an iPhone can’t and they do many of those things very very well. But, too often those devices are cluttered with features that don’t perform as users expect or hardware that holds back their performance. (Remember the one with the 3D camera? )

Apple may get criticized for their “closed ecosystem” and “hindering of innovation” – but those complaints are missing the point:

It doesn’t matter how cutting edge something is if it doesn’t work well for it’s user.*

It’s like owning a rocketship that you don’t know how to fly.

Herein lies the simple brilliance of their strategy: Make users happy. Only include features that can be executed perfectly and have an intended & specific use.

Doing less really well isn’t a new idea. But time after time it’s been proven successful. The job of any tech is to be as useful as possible for it’s users – Don’t forget that.

* This is no way is an endorsement for all Apple does. Just an observation of a key point of user experience. There are plenty of pros and cons to the approach taken by Apple, Google, Microsoft and others in the mobile space – way more than can be covered in one op-ed blog post.

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