Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Forrester Research: Where Have All The Single-Function Devices Gone?

Chris Charron at Forrester Research looks at multifunction devices and the challenges the industry and consumers face when there are so many technology choices that it is hard to discern whether a device is a "manageable multitasker" or overloaded with too many features. Forrester offers the following rules of portable multitasking with my condensed highlights:

  1. Don't obfuscate the core function of the device - focus on your device's primary function and market additional capabilities to consumers who are already sold on the core purpose
  2. Only add functions that don't detract from the core application - there are distinct times when consumers will opt for their camera phone: when they want to quickly share a photo with friends (26%) or when it's the only camera they have with them (37%).
  3. Price multitasking devices based on primary markets - the Audiovox SMT 5600 smartphone targets the average consumer at $150; the Treo 650 goes for the business market, priced at $299 and up.
  4. Watch users carefully - After seeing that lead users of the iPod were using the shuffle feature with great regularity, Apple decided to actually strip down features to better serve these users at a lower price point. This is a great example of consumer-driven innovation -- going against the multifunction device tide -- with great success, by keeping a close eye on users.
Forrester then answers some questions about today's trends:
  • Will satellite radio and MP3 portable devices converge? Yes, they already have with Sirius Radio's S50. As soon as Apple, Dell, Creative, or Sony can strike a deal with XM and/or Sirius, music, sports, talk, and news fans everywhere will rejoice. An audio device any way you slice it, the dual MP3-satellite radio functionality appeals to comparable consumer markets, and neither function detracts from the other. This MP3-satellite radio device merger makes so much sense that we're surprised that a portable audio multitasker like this hasn't already happened.
  • Will the cell phone replace the iPod? Maybe. Motorola's ROKR, Samsung's SCH-A950, and Sony Ericsson's W800i have taken strides to make phone-based audio content management and enjoyment easier for consumers. But the mobile music experience that these devices deliver still cannot compare with that of Apple's iPod. Device-makers will have to up the ante on mobile storage, software, and processing speed to get consumers to reach for their cell phones when they want to hear Eminem's Curtain Call album. And with the PC currently at the center of the consumer digital music experience, cell phones will need to operate as smoothly and seamlessly with the PC as an MP3 player -- or consumers will continue to opt for their iPods.
In conclusion, Forrester writes "So while multitasking rules among today's portable devices, this trend doesn't spell the end of the well-purposed, functionally focused device. Devices that combine portable form with focused, collectively appropriate functions -- like Sony's PSP gaming and audio/video functions -- will conquer their target markets."

The whole piece sounds pretty common sensical for the most part, although I disagree with the last statement regarding the PSP, since I'm currently down on the device. I'd argue that Sony and the PSP are far from focused on where they want to go with the product and functionality. Just going by Forrester's four rules of portable multitasking, you can see why Sony fails on 3 out of the 4. By my count:
  • Rule 1 - if the PSP is a portable gaming machine first and foremost then where are all the compelling games?
  • Rule 3 - if the PSP is a portable multimedia device then why is Sony nickel and diming its customers by charging $19.95 for the PSP Media Manager software when iTunes comes free with the iPod?
  • Rule 4 - if users are modifying their user experience with homebrew apps and content then why is Sony doing everything they can do stifle this?
Didn't mean to turn this into a Sony diatribe, but has the company become the anti-Apple? BTW, I ordered SOCOM for the PSP for my son's Christmas present so if the game turns out to be as good as I've heard then I'll be singing praises forSony and the PSP pretty soon. Us gadget geeks are easy....