Innovation failure at the late phase-gateKolumne von Adele Gritten
Despite working in a fast paced, tech-dominated research era, indeed, despite my job entailing advising many media and tech clients on how to develop innovative products for competitive advantage in the marketplace, I often rally against this at a personal level and find myself on the late majority curve when it comes to purchasing the latest "must haves" and gadgets myself.
So, it might surprise some of you that it was only this week that I took the plunge and ditched the Samsung Galaxy to finally succumb and give Apple a go. Too tight-fisted to splash out on the iPhone 6, I purchased the one remaining black iPhone 5s on the high street in my area. The iPhone 6, despite its many impressive and market leading features, was too big for my needs and, well, actually much more snazzy than my simple needs dictate. All I require from a phone is the ability to connect to Mr. Google, especially its Maps when I’m out on fieldwork (!), make short phone calls, send text messages, emails, send and receive PowerPoint and PDF presentations and of course, take the odd photo now and then.
But before you start yawning, there is a genuine and timely point to selecting Apple for this month's blog. It has recently released the much applauded ground-breaking watch, eagerly awaited by the tech prophets and the fitness fanatics. (I have just finished a Qual Ethnography Study and observed a 38 year old man paying for Cigarettes in a Supermarket with his watch). Apple also launched the iPhone 6 late last year which my husband tells me is commendably more impressive than the laggard v5 iteration that I possess.
But as a Marketing Strategist I simply cannot play fool to the premise that the "latest" version of something MUST be better and that I simply MUST acquire it in order that I show the world that paradox that I am cutting-edge, leading a successful life etc.! (Yeah right, alongside 800+ million other iPhone consumers world-wide!).
For my needs, the iPhone 5 is more compact, less complicated, has smoother and more compatible to my design preferences, sensitivities, edges and contours than the latest version. Crucially, it was also significantly cheaper than the i6 but still does pretty much everything its predecessor did. I could not find a single reason to pay the extra £200+ pounds for the latest version.
Moreover, when I opened the shiny white packaging at home with limited set up instructions for a novice iPhone user like myself, I was forced to look on YouTube for tutorials on how to actually open the damn thing to insert my sim card. And herein lies what I consider to be a significant design flaw. Apple spends millions on product design, features and innovation R&D. It manages to outsmart and out-pace competitors with an intuitive feel for what consumers all over the world want. We now all flock aimlessly to its products, blindly assuming it is a quality brand that “gets” who we are and how we want to live our lives.
But if you've never owned an Apple before, rest assured that you’ll have some trouble (like I did) in figuring out how to actually open the phone to insert the crucial sim card! Tucked away sneakily in the box was a small, paperclip looking tool with a random and rather unclear how-to-insert diagram that I was supposed to intuitively know is to be used to unlock the sim tray. In fact, YouTube tutorials suggest that you should actually use an unfolded paper clip to open it. And if you watch just a handful of the "How to" insert Sim card videos online, then you’ll see that all presenters themselves fumble with the actual insertion. It is fiddly, tricky and wholly unintuitive.
So, whilst I'm meant to believe that Apple is the design manufacturer of the century, the item I need to use to access my sim card is the paperclip that was invented in 1899! Some forums even suggest that I use a Toothpick. If you"re out and about and need to take out the sim card, if you don't have a paper clip or a Toothpick to hand, you"re in trouble. The small "tool" that actually comes in the packaging to open it is easy to miss and so small that it will inevitably get lost and is actually pretty dangerous to have around the house with small children around.
In its final phase gates of research, I can only conclude that Apple left it to pure design afterthought in terms of how to insert and extract the most vital piece to the phone – the sim card. Too focused on the actual physical look, feel and presence of the product – its feel good factor –, it failed at the final hurdle i.e. on a fundamental practicality of how to insert, extract and access the sim card. The paper clip looking device it includes for us to do so is basic, uninspiring and frankly aesthetically incompatible with the look and feel of the rest of the phone.
We researchers must do much better at helping our clients get it right at all stages of the design and product features lifecycle. Research cannot just be about superficial look, feel and how to use and navigate a product once it is up and running. Research has to cover all bases. It has to evaluate how consumers look at the packaging, open the packaging, discard it, read and follow set up instructions as well as their journey to seek online help and support etc. Research needs to better understand the consumer's intuitive approach to product set up and how they go about longer-term product maintenance etc. Better understanding and catering for these subtleties (often only unearthed qualitatively and longitudinally at that) will yield longer-term customer lifetime value.
Apple might have got me as a customer for now. But I’m expecting some serious design innovation on the sim insertion front in particular if they want to keep me when I upgrade in 18-24 months!