In search of powerful simplicity

Here’s a choice facing many a product manager in the consumer electronics industry. When creating a new product, should the development team focus its time and budget on adding extra functionality, or in ensuring that the existing...


Here’s a choice facing many a product manager in the consumer electronics industry.

When creating a new product, should the development team focus its time and budget on adding extra functionality, or in ensuring that the existing functionality works reliably?

Based on results of a survey of 2006 consumers being released this week, user feedback is that product managers should make the latter choice: prioritising quality of features over quantity.

The survey participants, drawn equally from the US and the UK, were asked to comment on their experiences over the last six months in using appliances such as mobile phones, TVs, GPS navigation devices, digital cameras, and computers.

Top of their list of frustrations, by some way, were complaints about devices crashing - that is, freezing, not responding, or needing to be restarted.

Some 39% of respondents highlighted that issue, in comparison with only 16% who complained about limitations in the functionality of the device.

Other issues came even further down the list of frustrations - such as concerns over privacy and data security, and too much effort being required to use the device.

The survey in question was sponsored by Accenture, in parallel with the recent formation of Accenture Embedded Software Services. The intent of this new unit is to meet the rising need in companies for assistance in developing products that take advantage of the rapidly growing potential of embedded software. The unit provides services throughout the development lifecycle, from product conceptualisation and design, through coding, integration, and optimisation, to testing, market launch, and maintenance.

The survey provides important input regarding consumer expectations for how these new products should perform. Given a range of possible answers, participants were asked to pick the pieces of advice they would give to the companies designing their smart mobile appliances.

  • Aggregating the results, the top three findings for manufacturers were as follows:
  • “Keep it simple” - mentioned by 53%
  • “I prefer to be surprised, and wait for the next great innovation” - also mentioned by 53%
  • “Focus on a limited number of functionalities/applications which are useful (rather than a thousand I will never use)” - mentioned by 43%.

The desire for reliability and simplicity was, evidently, mixed with a desire for more innovation. Other questions in the survey clarified some examples of innovation that were of particular interest:

  • 63% of respondents expressed interest in smart in-car recording systems that would monitor the quality of their driving, in order to reduce their car insurance premium; almost the same number (62%) were interested if the system could monitor their level of concentration, and take evasive action if it appeared an accident was about to happen
  • 66% expressed interest in remote online diagnosis systems for household appliances such as TVs and washing machines, that could provide early warnings of pending problems, and avoid the need for a field technician having to visit the person’s home
  • 73% expressed interest in solutions that would allow their electricity company to regulate or limit the use of some major appliances at specific time of the day, in return for reduced energy bills.

The survey then dug deeper, looking for broader factors that made consumers interested in new product innovation. The top three factors were as follows:

  • 51% were interested in innovations that would improve home energy efficiency
  • 53% were interested in innovations that would make their lives easier
  • 79% were interested in innovations that help them save money.

On the subject of saving money, one other finding in the survey deserves emphasis. Nearly 50% of all respondents said they would be ready to spend extra to get smarter devices that could do more things automatically:

  • 17% of respondents would pay up to 10 percent more

  • Another 20% percent said they would be ready to pay up to 5 percent more

  • Another 10% said they would pay up to 20 or 30 percent more.

Reflecting on the results of the survey, Jean-Laurent Poitou, global managing director of Accenture Embedded Software Services, commented as follows: “As consumers accumulate and rely on more devices to help manage their lives, they are becoming increasingly frustrated with devices that frequently crash or don’t work as well as expected.

The ‘cool factor’ is no longer enough.

Consumers, especially younger ones, seek simpler, more intelligent devices with just the right number of useful functionalities.”

He went on: “Users are increasingly interested in the prospect that smarter collection and processing of individual information could lead to them paying lower prices. The challenge for the industry is to find ways to engineer innovative uses of embedded technology to deliver cost savings in ways that are reliable and easy-to-understand.”

It’s true: at one time, the “cool factor” sufficed. Early technology adopters - a minority of consumers - were more forgiving of devices that didn’t quite work as advertised. Having an app on your phone was something innovative and different, and helped you stand out in a crowd.

But now that the potential market for these technologies has grown much larger, the expectation for those apps has transformed. The age of forgiveness has passed. Consumers are now in search of what we can call “powerful simplicity”.

The companies who can meet this need - not just for phones, but also in the other emerging product categories that can take advantage of embedded smartphone technologies - face a bright future.

David Wood, Technology Strategy Lead, Accenture Embedded Software Services

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