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 its new hotness like iTunes, iPod and YouTube integration and its 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 third party apps, and you couldn’t even run more than one 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 its 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 its 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 Apple ensured that those who did purchase the iPhone 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 thousands 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. Today, competitors’ devices do hundreds of things that an iPhone can’t and they do many of those things very well. But, too often those devices are cluttered with features that don’t perform as users expect or with hardware that holds back their performance. (Remember the one with the 3D camera?)
Apple may get criticized for its “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 its user. It’s like owning a rocketship that you don’t know how to fly.
Herein lies the simple brilliance of Apple’s strategy: make users happy. Only include features that have an intended and specific use and can be executed perfectly.
Doing less and doing it 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 its users. Don’t forget that.