“A widescreen iPod with touch controls. A revolutionary mobile phone. An unprecedented Internet communications device.” This was how Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone. There’s ingenuity in the delivery and the ‘wow factor’ that stems from the device’s (then) amazing feature set. But what amazes me today is how simple and focused it is as a plan.
Here are three clear, specific use cases that Apple knew people wanted, and a device that aims to deliver them. You see the same thing elsewhere in hit tech products. Another good example is the Nintendo Switch, which gave people a way to play high-quality games on their TV – then pick up the console and take it with them to play anywhere. Again: it’s smart and simple. This was a focused innovation that was a hit with the masses and had clear use cases that people cared about.
Unlike Apple’s “reinvented” smartphone, the iPad has suffered relatively. why? Because even in the beginning, he lacked sharp focus. At the unveiling of the device, Steve Jobs made a good case for a tablet. He asked if there was room for a third category of devices between smartphones and laptops. He felt that it should be much better than those who do the main tasks. But that was still a mystery — and the iPad has remained in an awkward spot ever since. PersonallyI think iPads are great, but even to me, Apple’s lack of clarity is frustrating. Fortunately, Apple business model led to the success of the iPad. This – like anything – saved him.
Which brings me to Amazon. You may have seen the news this week that Amazon is killing Alexa. Specifically, the section that includes Alexa voice tech and Echo devices will be stripped, because it’s a bleed. Billions of dollars annually. This might come as a surprise — after all, Alexa was once likened to something out Star Trek They called the future of every home.
So what went wrong? Take the lack of focus from the iPad, make assumptions about use cases that never happen, blur the profit upfront business model, and you have the Alexa ecosystem. Amazon has operated for a long time on the belief that it can sell hardware at cost, extinguish the competition, take over (most of) the (technology) world, and laugh maniacally. Without clear guidance, important questions remained unanswered.
What are Alexa and Echo devices for? How will they earn Amazon money? Cheap gadgets have flown from virtual shelves into people’s homes, but the ingrained behaviors haven’t changed dramatically. Amazon is betting that profits will be made when the devices are used rather than at the point of purchase. But instead of using Alexa and Echo to buy more stuff, people made Amazon annoyed by using them to play songs, turn on lights, and ask about airspeed for unencumbered swallowing.
We now find ourselves in an era when money is tight, and so pushing more shiny technology to market and saying “we’ll find out later” isn’t good enough. (Meta, note, with your VR plans.) Shiny new games can be a distraction. They can influence and excite temporarily. But they lack sustainability – in every sense of the word.
More than ever, technology needs a purpose and that be it meaningful. When it lacks focus — or has an absurd or unnecessary focus — it’s hard for people to care about it, eroding the device’s chances of long-term success. We need to start asking why every piece of technology really is issues. Although we don’t ask Alexa, because that would only annoy Amazon.