Does It Make Sense to Ignore Consumer Interest When Designing Technology Products?

Amazon débuted yet another smart phone targeted to the broad consumer market, this one named the “Fire Phone”, in mid June 2014. In an interview with Greg Bensinger, which was published by the Wall Street Journal, titled Amazon’s Bezos on How the Fire Phone Is Like Chocolate Ice Cream, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO expressed his opinion on whether ISVs should listen to consumers, and, subsequently, produce products, within their reach, to satisfy consumer needs.

This nugget popped up in the middle of Mr. Bezos’ reply to a broad question posed by Mr. Bensinger, the core of which amounted to “why are you sill diversifying products, horizontally, with a hardware device?”

Bezos replied as follows: “It’s easy to do something unique if you’re not constraining yourself by customer interest.” This short sentence of fourteen words nicely sums up several variations on what this writer calls “engineering driven product marketing”.

In the 1980s this approach provided the operating juice behind “solution without a problem” products.

In the first decade of this century (and even, perhaps, to this day) this notion provided the core of “ready, fire, aim” product design for ISVs, who, unfortunately, confused the intended benefit of this product development method (which is to reduce time to market, while insulating a very early stage business from a poorly timed decision to deeply commit to a wrong product notion), with a laissez-faire product design mandate.

Mr. Bezos’s point, in the opinion of this writer, should not be taken as a recommended product marketing methodology by early stage ISVs, who may have a lot technical heft, but little understanding of what markets are looking for, simply because they either

  • haven’t sampled consumer interests, and requirements, or
  • have focused on, as Mr. Bezos’s notes in his statement, “building something unique”

The question of whether “uniqueness” amounts to anything, at all, as regards the potential of a specific product for a specific market can not be broadly answered. Commodity markets, like the smart phone market to which Mr. Bezos has introduced the Fire Phone have not reacted well to so-called “unique” products in the past. For example, the Ford Edsel was a big failure, as was “new Coke”.

Early stage ISVs, in this writer’s opinion, will do better in commodity markets by either lowering their cost of product manufacturing/consumer acquisition, or rethinking product platforms to truly meet unmet consumer needs.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Why Isn’t Amazon Instant Video Available on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2.1?

On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Amazon has scheduled a new product announcement. A lot of the talk, online, is about the likelihood this new product will prove to be an Amazon smart phone. But, of all this talk, only one writer, David Streitfield, of the New York Times, in an article titled With an Amazon Smartphone, the Retailer Seeks a Tether to Consumers appears to appreciate the urgency, for Amazon, to debut yet another smart phone. Mr. Streitfield alludes to the inevitability of Amazon taking a very late step into a very mature smartphone market: “Now Amazon is giving this brutal business a shot. On the one hand, analysts say, it has no choice. On the other, the rewards could be tremendous.”

Actually, perhaps it is more accurate to say Mr. Streitfield reports on some analysts who actually appreciate why Amazon actually has no choice but to take this step. But why is Amazon forced into this move? Unfortunately, Mr. Streitfield provides no further detail on this point, beyond painting a picture of a likely shrinking market for the various items in its massive inventory and offering to consumers, if search engines, like Google, continue to roll in further enhancements to their location based search features.

This writer caught more of a tangible sense of why Amazon might need to take this step when he attempted to use his Amazon Prime account to watch “Amazon Prime” instant videos on his Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, 2.1, and/or his Surface 2 tablets. Neither device would run the videos. This writer experienced no problems running the instant videos on a desktop PC, but the tablets would not work,

A discouraging message came up when he tried to play an Instant Video on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2.1. The message amounted to a warning the video would not be able to be played on this device, so try playing it on a PC.

With the Android O/S deeply entrenched in the position of the most popular smart phone (and tablet) O/S, by far, Amazon cannot afford, much longer, not to have a viewer of its own for this market. If an Amazon smart phone is an effort to solve this big problem, and, at the same time, a reliable player for Android and Windows 8.1 Mobile Devices is also announced, then the decision will likely be the right one for Amazon to have made.

But the question still remains — why do is there no player for these other mobile device O/Ss? Does Amazon’s position in the Instant Video market, as a competitor to Google Play, and Samsung’s own online entertainment marketing effort, have anything to do with it?

The answer to this question is a likely “yes.” If Amazon implemented the same bully negotiating style it called on for its issues with Hatchette, with Google Play, Samsung, and even the Windows Store, the the lack of a viewer on any of these platforms makes sense.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Will Cortana Provide Windows Phone 8.1 with the Momentum Required to Win a Bigger Share of the Smart Phone Market?

Worldwide markets for what I collectively call small, smart mobile devices appear to be reaching a plateau. The progression of the high end smart phone market has shown signs of taking this direction over the last year and a half. Most recently, IDC’s report on first calendar quarter 2014 worldwide sales of tablets showed the same trend.

In my opinion, the tactic likely to be the most popular for competitors in, at least, the smart phone market, will be to cannibalize each others customers in an effort to continue to increase share of the market.

Consumers will continue to play the dominant role in purchase decisions. Price discounting should become prevalent. Trade-in offers will play their role, which will contribute to higher costs for channel partners and manufacturers.

A light in all of this darkness will be any new technological feature, well received by the public, which a competitor will be able to leverage to at least maintain price, if not margin. Cortana, the new “personal assistant” Microsoft® has announced for Windows Phone 8.1, looks to be this type of factor.

As I wrote earlier in this blog, there are many reasons for further potential in current smart phone technology around the notion of speech-to-computing features. To quickly restate my position, by definition, smart phones are mobile devices. For one reason, or another, consumers on the go cannot, and should not, be using screen or keyboard input devices to perform computing procedures. Cortana has received across-the-board positive review from popular press. This product has all of the features required to provide consumers with a voice activated method of processing computing tasks.

When technology increases the usefulness of a device like a smart phone, then manufactures have the tool needed to either justify holding a market price, or even increasing it. It doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to expect a price increase for its own handsets built on the Windows Phone 8.1 O/S once Cortana is released. But it does make sense to expect Microsoft to gain market share from competitors at the high end of the market for this new feature.

Disclaimer: I’m long Microsoft

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


With Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft Sees an Opportunity to Emphasize the Personal in the Consumer PC Experience

As Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group (PC, Tablet and Phone) states at the start of his keynote presentation at Microsoft’s Build 2014 Conference, one of the drivers for the Windows Phone O/S was to produce an experience “a little bit less like technology, and a lot more about you”. Belfiore then claims “we think Windows Phone is the world’s most personal smart phone”.

This preamble leads up to the public debut of Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant feature, which will be a very prominent new feature of Windows Phone 8.1 when it is released to the user community this summer. As Belfiore demonstrated, Cortana represents a substantial enhancement to the voice-activated capabilities of Windows Phone. The added power of this personal assistant amounts to a combination of a presumably embedded Bing client, and a set of data collection and analytics features designed to quickly put together a richly featured profile of the owner of the Windows smart phone.

All of the above is very significant, but I want to use this post to illustrate an important component of the Microsoft® computing brand. As I wrote in 2012, in a post to this blog titled Microsoft Understands the Evolution of Personal Computing from Desktop Computers to Handheld Devices, consumers now refer to PCs, but rarely to “personal computers”.

This evolution of consumer awareness of the “personal computer” into simply the “PC” amounts to bad news for product marketers of PC products, applications, etc. In its ad for the SuperBowl, in 1984, Apple at once echoed a comparable emphasis on the personal, but combined it with a notion of the Macintosh as the computer of “the revolution”. The outcome of this marketing communication effort is history.

But Microsoft certainly has an opportunity to reclaim the personal. Belfiore’s presentation of Windows Phone 8.1 at Build 2014 continues the branding effort for Windows Phone as the Personal Smart Phone (synonymous, for me, with the notion of computer), which I picked up back in 2012. This is good news for the Windows Developer community. It would be helpful if the Marketing Communications team could come up with a better method of delivering the same message to consumers.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved