The iPad success has been initially questioned by some. They’re not that loud anymore now that Apple is breaking record sales every quarter, that a whole bunch of competitors are releasing their own tablets and that people are forming lines every early morning in front of Apple Stores to get the new iPad 2. I won’t blame them though: I’ve initially been sceptic about tablets, having been an early adopter of the first touchscreen laptops myself (windows tablet anyone?). A few months before the iPad came out I looked at the opportunity like many “power” users: why would I need a simpler machine that would do less than a Mac? Of course, the geek in me got the better of the rational guy and I rushed on the iPad when it came out. I wasn’t too sure what to expect but now I know : the iPad does less than a Mac and that’s better to a lot of people. Including me, surprisingly.
There has been a ton of articles about why less is often better than more in terms of product design but it seems to me there’s another source of inspiration here for entrepreneurs. The iPad is not just about Macs being judged better than PCs by some. It is not just about product differentiation, it is about creating a whole new category.
The iPad is a simpler computer because it doesn’t do most of what a PC tries to do. It changes a market which is dominated by vendors selling machines which you will only use a small part of the features. Why is that? Because PC makers want to deliver a “one-size-fit-all” version so they include everything they can to please all kinds of users. They add a feature here, a pre-loaded free trial version of a software there, etc… To the engineer who proposes them, I’m sure these additions presents a very small marginal cost. But in the process they introduce friction: PC’s become very complex machines that are harder to produce (hence more costly), more complex to use and harder to support and maintain. By removing these features, the iPad removes friction, making the product simpler to use and lowering the costs. Some call the iPad curated computing; I see it as part of a bigger trend of delivering frictionless services and products.
Here are some examples of companies I can think of who’ve done that or are in the process of doing so. Sometimes to lower the cost, sometimes to simplify the user-experience, most of the time to achieve both:
– EasyJet / SouthWest airlines and all the low cost companies which strip air travel of all but the bare essentials, dropping cost in the process
– MailChimp which makes sending newsletter for SMB’s as easy as personal email
– Uber which removes the need to hail a cab in the street, makes it as easy as a foursquare check-in and even manages to give you the perception you don’t have to pay (fees and tips are “automagically” debited from your card through the cloud)
– Nespresso: think of how impossibly complex and expensive it was to have espressos at home before
– Nintendo Wii: ask console gamers what they want and do the exact opposite; end up in a much larger market, one that – a first in the game industry – massively includes women
– Webmail: whether it’s Hotmail or others, they weren’t as fancy as using complete mail clients but they converted more consumers to electronic messaging than Outlook
In all of these cases, there’s a trade off and a price to pay for simplicity: you “lose” something for the sake of making the proposition more attractive to a larger and more mainstream market. Which means that you’ll always find – sometimes passionate – defendants of the more complex and complete alternative: good friends of mine still insist Nespresso is crap coffee and only appealing to people with sub-standard tastes (disc: they’re Italians…). And of course, the iPad has its detractors, blaming the lack of Flash support among other things. But in the end, the market speaks and these are all examples where a disruptive frictionless product category was successfully created at the expense of competition.
So here are the questions I’m having:
– what sectors are dominated by over-complex products ?
– are there any ways to make 80% of the benefit through a more simple system?
If you find a market where you can answer these questions, search no more: you have an idea for a great frictionless start-up.
Guillaume Decugis, CEO of Scoop.it, hopefully a frictionless way to publish on the Web…