Thursday, October 23, 2008
Good People make good products, great people make great products
One of the things that I have been interested in most of my life is design, but I have always taken a different interest than the traditional design interest of talking about design as a beautiful or well designed chairs or glasses, products of an individual. My interest was initially in Industrial Design, but it seemed a bit narrow, so I moved my interest into Design Management. I read all the books on the topic in the early 90’s and met the community and I was left a bit empty. I finally wrote my thesis on the economics of design, of which at the time there was hardly nothing written. This gradually led me to product development, I had a wonderful Japanese Professor, Kiyonori Sakakibara, at London Business School, where I did some research on dominant design, Utterback and Abernathy based. He shaped my life in a fundamental way by kindly encouraging me out of academia and into product development. My professor was of the opinion I made too bold assumptions for a young academic, I guess I was too impatient. I applied for a job at Nokia as a product manager for user interfaces. This started a long learning journey. I was very fortunate to work alongside product managers and later as more senior to program managers. Program managers are the CEO’s of the activity that makes a product, they are, I guess, much like the Directors and Producers of a movie fused into one person. Steve Jobs has been heralded as the world’s best product maker, he tops my list. I have been fortunate to worked with several extraordinary product makers at Nokia and Yahoo. Product makers are in my opinion the renaissance men of modern times, particularly if the product is a sophisticated one, like a mobile phone. The knowledge these people sit on is incredible.
This post is really a tribute to the headline and to all the anonymous product makers. In most cases you shape the world, but never get the glory, the best might not need the glory, the creation is all the satisfaction they need.
This post was triggered by one product, the Nokia E71. Being outside of Nokia, I see them in a different light and I gotten a bit worried that they stopped caring about their products, getting sloppy. When I first saw the E71, I said, that looks dammned good, when I touched it, I said this looks & feels great. It will be one of the biggest sellers in the Nokia range coming 12M.
Now to the headline, great people make great products. It was completely clear that this product was done by one of the great product makers in Nokia. I had to find out who. Now I know. If you would have put me on the spot and forced a guess out of me, I might have arrived both at the R&D center and the person, at least I would like to think I would have been able to do it. This person masters, SW, HW, Operating systems and User Experience and most importantly the skill to get the people to do the extra mm, cm, meter and mile when it counts. The perverted thing is if you remove him and drop the person at a different company, there is absolutely no guarantee that anything would come out. This is what makes product making so darn fascinating. The E71 is the effort of several hundred people working probably more than 12-16M and thousands of people contributing to it. But in the end it really comes down to one person or a very small team.
Now if you are an analyst bumping into this story, I would think hard what judgements you make of RIM, as the E71 is real threat to them. What is my substantiation? It is my global focus group of two: one my product manager friends and colleague saying, after having used the iPhone for a while and getting the E71, "I had forgotten how good a phone the E71 is" and an old friend, female, caressing it and saying how much "she loves this device". That is all the market research I need to make my blink judgement: E71 will be a device shaping the mobile business in coming 12M.
To the guys who made it, thank you and keep on doing what you do, the world will be just a bit better if we get more beautiful products like the E71.
Monday, October 20, 2008
I finally experienced the recession
I have wondered when I really experience the recession, it happened last Friday. I had a business dinner, at the fancy RhodesW1, off Marble Arch in the Cumberland Hotel. This is a posh place, and has been very popular for some time. It has one star in Guide Michelin. I had booked a table on Wednesday for Friday night, I managed to get a table for 9PM. When we arrived an hour early we ask humbly if we could dine a bit earlier, expecting to be squeezed in midst first serving. Walking into the restaurant, it was practically empty, and worst it remained so for the whole evening. I finally touched the recession, it was bound to start at the high-end.
Despite the lack of fellow diners the evening was a success. The serivice was attentive, the food was good, not stunning, as one might expect in a place like this. I politely asked if they felt the crunch, and the waitor, a bit embarrassed shun the subject, but admitted that it was more quiet. I think that was an understatement, they had slammed into a wall. In the past years it used to be impossible to get a table at these places with a couple of days notice.
What re-inforced the crunch was an unexpected sale at one of the childrens shop, where I been buying girls wear. They flagged a short -25% off on everything. Again the lady in the clothing shop admitted that there are better and there are worse days. I suspect much of retail could look grim this winter.
The table is set start touching
In about 20M the mobile industry has taken a sharp and touchy turn towards a new form a touch device. This industry transformation was faster than the previous transformation pionneered by Motorola, when phones became thin, now there is a segment around touch. I predicted that 2008 would be year of bad touch screens. Nokia launched its play in this domain, based on Series 60, it has been shaped into a music proposition, a good move as the Comes with Music value proposition is good. The device has haptic feedback from Imersion I would guess, as they sit on most of the IP in this domain. The screen is restive and not as sensitive as Apple iPhone screen is. The formfactor is narrower, maybe a sign of its heritage coming from a phone company, just like the SonyEricsson Experia. What I really like in the Experia is the little qwerty, it is faster than one without. Its drawback will be the Windows mobile experience which has not been built for finger. I am looking forwards playing with the Experia tiles. What makes the Experiea gret is its screen and the attention to detail in design. It screams tech power. The Nokia 5800 will have heritage of of Series60 designed for click and scroll, we have seen it morph to more screens than ever imagined, of which the Communicator version was not a brilliant execution. What I like in the 5800 is the combination of a few hard keys and the touch screen working in harmony.
The Asians, with Samsung and LG, have been quitetly improving their touch screen offerings, but they are both hampered by their closed operating Systems. The Samsung Omnia is being pushed hard, but it is built on top of Windows and that puts a limit on its achivements. If Microsoft is not able to bring a massive step up for Mobile Wrold Congress, I think the future might look bleak.
The T-Mobile, HTC based Android based Google phone is an important newcomer. It is still early days, and I am sad to see that they had been derailed off their more mass market strategy by the media, inot a touch experience, which still lacks some experience fundamentals. It could have been more mature as a concept, but when one gets pushed to be a alternative to the iPhone one I guess do what one can to step up.
Last week RIM launched their Storm, which certainly must have caused a storm inside, out went the qwerty, the pillar of RIM. I cannot wait to test typing on it. This device will show, if typing can be made great, it is the core pillar of the RIM experience. They have certainly innovated, built on a Synaptics capacitive sensor, they have added haptic click, it could feel quite good.
I use my iPhone as a second phone, and I still have problems typing on it, the lak of tactility is a real drawback, I cannot steer my mind to accepting it to be fine, it is not good.
Despite various shortcomings, I think they all will give Apple a run for their money, as they play different strengths, Nokia with Music and an open platform, SonyEricsson with its Qwerty and RIM with its superior messaging system and innovations in touch. The loosers I think are the Korean's I do not exactly see their point of differentiation. In the high end one has to own the OS and UE, otherwise one cannot provide an experience that even has a chance to play against Apple. This puts SonyEricsson, Samsung and LG in difficult positions.