When sentimentality keeps you from making a good product great

The next iPhone killer

Over the past few days the gadget blogs have been all a-twitter over the new Blackberry Bold 9800. An update to the recently released Bold 9700, the new 9800 features a touchscreen/keypad combo, better resolution, and an all new incarnation of the Blackberry operating system.

Along with the specs, the device comes with the requisite “iPhone killer” rhetoric. Will the new Blackberry be RIM’s salvation? Will it put Apple out of business? Will it be the new standard against which we compare every smartphone to come to market?

I’m not sure, but I’d be willing to bet that it won’t. The reason? Because RIM is just too sentimental.

Consistency at all costs

Blackberry, in an effort to provide consistency for their users, has elected to keep many of the OS’s historical design elements. Elements that in 2002 (when the first BB smartphone was released) were new and charming but now, only 8 short years later, seem quaint and just a bit dated. As one blog put it, it might be a bit like trying to “… put lipstick on a pig.”

The thing that Apple did well with the iPhone (antenna notwithstanding) is not so much sacrificing the sacred cow as it is ensuring that there are no sacred cows to begin with. Whether it be eliminating the floppy drive on the original iMac, replacing serial and parallel ports with USB, or even eliminating their favorite Firewire ports, Apple has shown again and again that sentimentality for “what was” only gets in the way of good design.

Sacred cows

All too often product design gets mired in the mundane, the list of things that “… we have to have because our existing customer base demands them.” The trick, of course, is to accurately and dispassionately separate the things that the customers want from the things that we want the customers to want, either because they’re things we ourselves want or because there’s a pet project someone doesn’t want to give up. There’s a sacred cow in the room that no one can put out to pasture.

Thar be growth

And as we plan for growth, either through market expansion, adjacencies, or white spaces, we have to continually ask and challenge ourselves on the things that we hold sacred. Its hard to give up on the thing that we created, the thing that we championed, the thing that we’ve come to think of as iconic. The problem is when another product comes along and turns your icon into an anachronism.

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