“I have nothing against iPhone. It’s great,” says Manjit Singh, CIO at Chiquita Brands International Inc. “But we’re a BlackBerry shop, and I don’t think iPhone brings anything new to the table. It has a great user experience, but that’s all.”
I'll see if I can't voice my concerns about this statement a bit more explicitly than Mr. Crow did. First, let me state that I was a Blackberry user for a number of years and had planned on holding onto my Pearl at the time my wife bought me the iPhone for my birthday. In retrospect, I'm so glad she did. I can't imagine going back. It's not that I don't appreciate what the RIM devices bring to the table, it's just that my lifestyle (music-filled as it is) is best supported by the iPhone. My concerns are not in the Blackberry v. iPhone debate, my concern is with the assertion that a better user experience is "all" that an iPhone brings to the debate.
In his quote for the cover of "Design of Everyday Things," Tom Peters asserts that design may be our best competitive advantage. It took a while for this to sink in, but here's what I believe he meant:
We live in an era where things and features are cheap. I think it can be traced back to the "give away the razors to sell the blades" philosophy. This loss-leader sensibility can be seen in play with Microsoft losing money on each console they sell. We live in a world that caters to the masses rather than charge a premium to the discerning few. It is more lucrative to sell the minimum to everyone rather than the maximum to some. In other words, from a pure P&L; standpoint, it's better to be McDonalds than Japonais. However, here's where that philosophy breaks down...
What do you do when the market becomes saturated? Once you've decided to become Dell (and, Michael did so at the opportune time), what do you do when all the people that are looking for low-cost technology own it?
Back when I was in the field as a consultant, I was staffed in a place where the two top-rated restaurants (on CitySearch) in the area were different branches of Applebees. While I have nothing inherently against eating good in the neighborhood, it seems like market penetration has occurred when your branches are competing against each other for best restaurant in the area. I always wondered what made one score higher than the other... The second thing that struck me was that people appreciated the lowest-common-denominator cuisine of a mega-chain to a more focused local offering. Eventually, we broke down and asked one of the clients if there was any good food in the area. She thought about it for a moment, then said, "No."
So, how do you make a difference? There was a time when speed-to-market and feature flooding would create lust around your offering, but the cost of technology and resources to bring such things to bear is at a minimum now. It strikes me that the only way to be different is to produce a really well thought out item that meets the consumer's needs in ways they hadn't even anticipated for themselves. Enter Apple and their swirling constellation of products that do sometimes unexpected things in a startlingly convincing manner. While Apple's secretive way of conducting business irritates the techno-hippies that feel every action should be performed with the curtain open, they more consistently hit the mark than other firms. Why? They really care whether or not the product sucks.
I mentioned that my lifestyle was "music-filled." In music, it is rare to create something that is both accessible and pushes the envelope. You need to be quite passionate about what you're doing and aware of how others will hear it to pull it off. Great design follows a similar vector. It is accessible in that it satisfies their immediate needs, and pushes the envelope by anticipating (or creating) needs they didn't even know they had. This is a long-winded way to say that selling everyone crap works until everyone has crap - then, they want something better.
With the cost (technology- and resource-wise) of deploying solutions that just meet the user's needs being at a minimum, making the extra effort to create something special is at a premium. We owe it to the users to provide them with the best possible experience. That is all...