Hardware doesn’t matter anymore and I’m starting to wonder if it ever really did.
Before the holidays I was exposed to Google TV and the mondo remote control that Sony created in order to use the device in “lean back” mode. Here is a picture of what it looks like:
When I see something like this I feel the designers and developers have failed at their job of creating a usable product which will influence my decision to purchase or not. Hardware design has become a commodity and one that I can’t really get excited about nor influence at this point. Don’t get me wrong, good, simple, usable hardware design is an incredible skill but putting too much emphasis on the hardware and not enough on the usability of the software that goes with it spells disaster.
My kids have been brought up with technology all around them – casualties of my profession. I was once a BlackBerry user and would hand them my phone to play with. They were impressed and momentarily distracted with the glowing trackball. I moved over to an iPhone and handed it to them and almost immediately they pushed the one insignificant button, slid the unlock key and were exposed to a world of wonder. Now, there are always finger prints on my 42 inch plasma TV because they think they should be able to swipe the TV to change channels.
Nothing better exemplifies the difference between hardware and software that the juxtaposition of my kids swiping the TV vs me handing them the Sony Google TV remote control.
In the mobile world there are even more constraints and even more expectations of usability on the software side – this is the layer of innovation. To build a beautiful experience, you need to overcome the limitations of the hardware by writing great software that enables people to use the device. Dual core? Who cares if I can’t take a great picture quickly. Bluetooth support? Who cares if I can’t connect to my car without telling it to. WiFi? Who cares if I can’t seamlessly transfer a cell call to VOIP without hanging up and calling back.
There are so many people and companies focused on the hardware specifications of smartphones and tablets these days but that’s not what is going to win in this market. When they all look the same – beveled rich screens, fast processors, cameras and all the trimmings, 7 inche tablets or 10 inche tablets – software becomes the differentiator and the companies that get the experience right will win. Apple has demonstrated this when it comes to the App frenzy we saw in 2010 and Google has shown us that the one stumbling block for Android has been the user experience (although it has been getting better with every release). I also believe the other significant player in the smartphone market, RIM, finally understands that good hardware is a beachhead for success, the rest lies in user experience – hence their recent purchase of TAT.
Hardware shouldn’t be noticed, it should just be used.
What do you think?