A couple days ago, bloggers began to notice that ex-Windows boss Steven Sinofsky has been tweeting from an iPhone.After explaining himself in the comments section of one of these blogs, Sinofsky has now written a full post about why he uses an iPhone.
He says the goal is to scope out “the competition.”
“Obviously you should use a competitive product. You should know what you’re up against when a consumer (or business) ultimately faces a buying decision. They will weigh a wide array of factors and you should be aware of those not only for the purposes of sales and marketing but when you are designing your products.”
That’s a fine explanation, except for one thing.
Sinofsky goes on to offer some tips for other executives looking to effectively check out products from their competition.
In his words, he says these are common mistakes to avoid:
- Using the product in a lightweight manner. All too often analysing the competition itself becomes a checklist work item. Go to the store and play with it for a few minutes. Maybe ask a friend or neighbour what they think. The usage of a competitive product needs to be in depth and over time. You need to use the product like it is your primary product and not switch or fall back to your old way of working. Often this is weeks or more of usage. Even as a reviewer this applies. Walt Mossberg famously took an iPad on a 10 day trip to France—no laptop at all. That’s how to use a product.
- Thinking like yourself, not the competition. When using a competitive product you need to use it like it was intended to be used by the designers. Don’t get the product and use the customisation tools to morph it into the familiar. Even if a product has a mode to make it work like the familiar (as a competitive bridge they offer) don’t use it. Use native file formats. Use defaults in the UI and functionality. Follow the designed workflow. They key is to let loose of your muscle memory and develop new memory.
- Betting competitors act similarly (or even rationally). If you think like a competitor you have to make future decisions like they might. Of course you can’t really do that or really know and this is where product intuition comes to mind (and also why blogs predicting product directions are often off the mark). You have to really wrap yourself around the culture, constraints, resources, and more of a competitor. The reality is that your competitor is not going “fix” their product to turn it into your product. So then the question is what would a competitors do in their context, not what would you do if you were designing the follow-on product in your context. This might actually feel irrational to you. One of the most classic examples of this is whether or not the Mac OS should have been licensed to other PC makers or not. Arguments could be made either way, both then and now. But what is right or assumed in one context simply doesn’t make sense in another. That context can also include a time dimension where the answer actually changes.
- Assume the world is static. Even after you’ve reviewed a competitor through usage you might feel confident because they are missing some features or might have done some things poorly. That’s a static view of the world. Keep in mind analysing the competition is a two-way street. If you noticed a weakness there’s a really good chance the competitor knew about it. When everyone pointed out that a phone was missing copy/paste, don’t make a mistake thinking that was news to the development team and would remain a competitive advantage.
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