Why Features Dont Matter Any More

By Andreas Pfeiffer  |  Posted 2006-01-23

Why Features Dont Matter Any More

As Apples iPod shows, success in technology today has less and less to do with features, and more and more to do with ease of use. The iPod was never sold on the grounds of its technical merits: Apple hit a gold mine by marketing a cool new way of integrating music into your life.

Even when Apple announced the iPod with video, it presented it not as the best multimedia player in the universe, but as a cool new way of watching "Desperate Housewives" and other TV shows.

In the seemingly never-ending debate about Apples successes, announcements, new products and predicted-but-unannounced über-gadgets, features and technical specifications often seem to dominate the debate.

Click here to read Andreas Pfeiffers column on why small-screen video demands a new creative language.

Yet if theres one lesson to be learned from the companys recent successes, it is a very simple one: Features dont matter any more. Welcome to the Age of User Experience.

One key aspect of modern digital devices is that technical specifications are easily copied and replicated: megapixel count in cameras, storage capacity in music players or processor speed in personal computers are the same everywhere.

As a result, they provide poor distinguishing factors for consumers when it comes to choosing between different brands.

Thats where the overall user experience comes in.

As computing and digital devices move more and more into the consumer space, features and functionalities will increasingly take the back seat as motivators for technology adoption: As the iPod abundantly shows, user experience (along with a strong brand and clever marketing) is much more important for the success of a device than technical specifications.

Web designers grasped the importance of good user experience a long time ago; now it is time for the big technology providers to understand where the industry is headed.

Next Page: 10 rules for experience-based technology.

10 Rules for Experience

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10 fundamental rules for technology based on user experience:

1) More features isnt better, its worse. Feature overload is becoming a real issue. The last thing a customer wants is confusion—and whats more confusing than comparing technical specifications, unless you are an expert? Only nerds get a kick out of reading feature lists. (I know— Im one of them.)

2) You cant make things easier by adding to them. Simplicity means getting something done in a minimum number of simple steps. Practically anything could be made simpler— but you dont get there by adding features.

3) Confusion is the ultimate deal-breaker. Confuse a customer, and you lose him or her. And nothing confuses people more easily than complex features and unintuitive functionalities.

4) Style matters. Despite what nerds may think, style isnt fluff. On the grand scale of things, style is as important as features—if not more so. Style and elegance can contribute significantly to a good user experience. But style isnt just about looks, its a global approach. Fancy packaging isnt enough.

5) Only features that provide a good user experience will be used. Why did the iPod catch on? Because it was so self-explanatory, and it remains the market leader in terms of user experience. Sure, it may be excruciatingly difficult to make devices like digital media players or computers easy to use; but if a product is complex, intimidating or confusing, its chances for success are minimal.

6) Any feature that requires learning will only be adopted by a small fraction of users. Learning new features, even ones that a user might find interesting or intriguing, is a real problem: Nobody has time. Getting consumers to upgrade and adopt new features is one of the biggest challenges software publishers face these days.

7) Unused features are not only useless, they can slow you down and diminish ease of use. Over time products become convoluted and increasingly complex to use. The frustration of not finding the one feature you need in a flurry of stuff you dont need, want or even understand, can be considerable. (Ever heard of a program called Word?)

8) Users do not want to think about technology: What really counts is what it does for them. The best tool is the one you dont notice. Why do you think pen and paper remain vastly popular for brainstorming? Because you dont have to think about them. Pencils dont crash.

9) Forget about the killer feature. Welcome to the age of the killer user experience. When technology achieves something desirable without being in your face, when it knows how to integrate itself into your wishes and desires without distracting from them, thats when technology lives up to its potential. Unfortunately, its not that simple to get there.

10) Less is difficult; thats why less is more. Lets face it: its usually harder to do simple things exceedingly well than to just pile up features. The 80/20 rule applies here too: Do well what 80 percent of your users do all the time, and you create a good user experience.

Andreas Pfeiffer is founder of The Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies. He can be reached at pfeiffer@pfeifferreport.com.

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