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Keeping it Simple

CONNECTIONS 2008 is about half over already and I wanted to share a few thoughts. If there’s one message that seems to come up in every session, keynote, and panel it’s that simplicity is the key to consumer adoption. Of course, we’ve all heard that before. Our industry’s ability to confuse customers is well recognized. Yet this is what made me stop and think. If we’re all in agreement that simplicity is the key, why do we need to remind each other year after year. Why are the products and services we offer still so complex? I suspect two inter-related factors explain the reason.

1) Our ambitions are too high. By this I mean, we’re trying to simplify too many things at once. Rather than offering a product or service with a few, easy to use capabilities, we offer something with countless “easy-to-use” capabilities. Of course, “countless” can never be “easy-to-use” and hence our products are still complex.

2) We’re trying to impress ourselves rather than our customers. Let’s face it, we in the tech industry are impressed with cool cutting-edge capabilities. When a new product is launched we immediately ask, “Does it have 802.11n, DLNA, MOCA, DRM, GPS, 3G, MPEG4, and 100Mbps?” If the answer is “yes”, we hail it as a technological break-through. If it doesn’t, we pay it no bother and move onto the next CES booth. The problem with this is that most consumers are not impressed with an alphabet soup of standards; they are impressed with simple, reliable products.

Apple seems to have discovered the path to simplicity. The iPod didn’t boast any cutting-edge technologies. (The original didn’t even allow you to view photos or videos for crying out loud.) Likewise the iPhone was technologically ho-hum. No 3G, no GPS, etc. etc. Yet Apple is the one reveling in market successes. Maybe they are onto something.