This morning I made an interesting observation – while riding the 2 train to the office, I noticed 3 women sitting in front of me with Blackberry phones, but the iPod white earphones in their ears, listening to an iPod that was nestled away in a pocket, only to show its face when the user didn’t love the shuffled song selection. It’s an observation that many of us could trace back 10 years, to the beginning of the iPod revolution, when the simple music player became all the rage. What was so interesting to me here though was the fact that these girls were carrying newer Blackberry phones, which carried MP3 music software, and enabled them to use a single device, instead of the two – and yet they preferred using the two devices separately.
I recall making a similar decision while at Greylock a few years back, lugging a Blackberry Bold along with my iPod to listen to music – I wouldn’t want to use the Blackberry’s clunky music interface or even pretend to concern myself with cutting its battery life short. My wife made a similar choice last year when we were carrying Droid 2’s, worried that listening to music drained the battery, and the music player was still horrific.
I also noticed a recent report from ChangeWave Research about the iPhone’s remarkable customer satisfaction – see link here. With 77% very satisfied and 19% somewhat satisfied, that leaves only 4% unhappy on some level – astonishing numbers.
When we look at comparable studies with Android and other handheld devices, we see a staggering difference:
So why the affinity to Apple iOS devices? The most commonly offered response is the intuitive interface and sleek design. The device just works, and doesn’t require a brilliant operator to get through all the kinks (see Android). And now, iOS is competing seriously for the enterprise – why else would $RIM and $MSFT support iOS at the Enterprise level?
The focus on complexity has always been part and parcel to the WinTel universe. Whole IT consulting firms with legions of IT professionals were employed with the sole goal of taking basic Windows building blocks and developing custom apps and tools to spec. Clearly many of these tools have been extremely successful and helped push firms to higher levels of efficiency and competitiveness. These tools grew and grew and grew, often long beyond their natural scale and shelf-life. Their great sales staffs then pushed their clients to extend the tools further and further, to extend lock-in…
However, the new buzz word is ‘simplicity’. Everyone who’s read Steve Jobs knows this well – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In fact, Isaacson devotes the entirety of Chapter 26 to the design simplicity – here’s my favorite quote via Johnny Ive:
“Why do we assume that simple is good?
Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”
Source: Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (Kindle Locations 6006-6011). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
There is an inherent philosophy here that is embraced by many innovators in the enterprise – simplicity is the art of saying no to complexities, while focusing on the essential. 37signals follows this approach with their SaaS products – limited customization and a requirement of your team adapting to the 37Signals workflow and conventions, but the product is a pleasure when you accept those limitations. But it also requires a philosophy that folks like 37Signals might know what you need better than you do – just as we trust Apple to figure out what features and services we need before we need them.
I remember when StockTwits first started with CRM, we went to 37Signals first for HighRise. The product worked, but we felt we were missing features we’d probably want to use, namely Social Media integration, E-Mail integration, and some customized reporting features. We then took a 6 month stroll testing other CRM tools (we actually loved BantamLive, but it was shut down this summer), before finally landing in Salesforce.com. The reasoning behind the decision was the expectation of an expanded feature set in the future, the inevitability of using Salesforce.com as we scale our sales team, and a casual forgiveness for Salesforce.com’s complexity in prior engagement with the tool. Not surprisingly, unlike our sales rep at 37Signals, who tried to convince us that we didn’t need these more complex features, his counterpart at Salesforce.com encouraged heavy customization, and even recommended a handful of consultants to build our application to our own customized needs. Now, several months into Salesforce.com, I frankly long for the time when we had fewer, simpler features to deal with – simpler tools that just did the essentials. The brilliance of simplicity…
The Coming Explosion
The iPhone and iPad have really shaken the enterprise. Firms like $MSFT and $RIM who in tandem ensured that mobile devices connected to legacy e-mail systems, prolonging their shelf-life in a world of cloud computing, are now seeing their worlds turned upside down. The truth is, while we all loved our Treos and our early Blackberry’s, most people today want something more from their mobile devices – iPhone. In an even clearer manner, the iPad has grown to complete domination of the tablet market, despite $MSFT having a 10 year head start and a multitude of vendors selling Android devices. More and more enterprise folks come to work and laugh about their old-world desktops and devices (in fact, you see firms reluctantly supporting iPad because employees show up to work with them to enhance productivity, outside of IT mandate). This trend will continue to blossom, encouraging a wholesale review of business tools at the enterprise level.
As mentioned in my post yesterday, I expect there will be several firms who will come in and replace (or redefine) the biggest enterprise software firms, namely $MSFT, $ORCL, $RIM, $SAP, etc. The very best of breed will likely have an Apple-like approach, with more rigid customization capabilities in exchange for a tremendously better user experience and ROI for the company. Obviously, we’re hoping StockTwits will be one of those SaaS vendors for the finance vertical – and we’re working hard to make that a reality.
Of course, there will be a silver lining for all the old-world IT pros though – there will be tons of migration work in the near-term…