In this day and age, the half-life of a moment is quickly fading into non-existence. Technology is evolving at an ever increasing rate and the software that powers it along with. Fads that used to last for months and years now last for a few short days or weeks. Of course, there are the loyal few that will stick with it, they always have, but public adoption is fickle and elusive.
As I contemplate building products and solutions for this age, I ponder what makes things truly successful. It seems that most good products rarely even see a 2.0 release with expectations moved far beyond what the original product could have ever lived up to. We see it all around us, iPhone apps, phones, tablets. There is always something better; something that does a little bit more. How then, do you build a lasting product that will withstand the test of time?
I think the key is building an experience. What keeps you going to Starbucks day after day? Of course you could say its the coffee; but can’t you make it at home for less? What brings you to Starbucks is the experience, the atmosphere, the doing of it. I can think of countless other examples where a product is memorable because of the experience of using it.
Apple’s entire retail sales model is based on this concept. What makes Apple retail stores so profitable? Arguably, it’s the fact that the customers form an almost immediate connection with whatever product they pick up. They can feel the quality, and that leaves an impression. As potential customers begin to experience what it means to be a Mac owner, or an iPhone or iPad owner, they visualize how they’ll use the item in their own lives. In that very moment, they are making an indelible impression on their perceived needs. They no longer just want an iPhone or iPad, they need it.
Now I don’t have a degree in neuroscience or psychology, but I truly believe that a rough approximation of this phenomenon is what makes something stand out. Not necessarily because it’s better, but because you had an experience.
That brings me back to my question: how do I, as a creator, craft an experience that will transition my product from a week-long conversation on twitter into a staple. What can I do to cut through all of the distractions and make my product invaluable? How can I be different? I have two ideas, but I’m not sure if either of them is right.
Fill an exact need, and fill it perfectly.
This is much too easy to say, and all too hard to do. In essence, your product needs to be clearly defined. It’s hard to hit the target if you don’t know what it is. Day One, a journaling app for Mac and iOS, does this extremely well. It’s purpose is clearly defined, and the app lives up to the definition. It has plenty of neat features, but how does it fill the need? Put quite simply, it does everything you’d expect it to do, and it does it without getting in your way. The makers have decided that when you write a journal entry you shouldn’t need to worry about selecting an appropriate date or a place to save it, all you need to do is write. In this case, filling the need means simplicity, and handling some of the minor decisions for you.
Make a great first impression.
Another thing that is clearly much easier to say then to do. The goal to change the user’s mind from “just another product/app” to “I can’t live without this”, has to happen quickly. In most cases, I know within one or two launches of an app whether it’s a keeper or not. The best way for somebody to fall in love with a product is to use it, so configuration should be kept to a minimum (if needed at all). The ideal first launch of an app is to begin doing whatever it is the app is designed to do within the first 15-30 seconds. The experience you’re leaving the user with is that your product allows them to do exactly what they came to do without having to try very hard.
Both of these ideas contribute to the user’s initial experience with your product. They convey that your product allows them to accomplish what they came to do. When I look at the apps on my iPhone or Mac, the apps that have stuck are the ones that fulfill a specific need and gave me a good experience the first time I used them.
In the end, it depends on what kind of product you are developing, but these are some of my thoughts on extending the half-life of the products we each build. What are your thoughts? Have you seen success approaching this challenge a different way? I’d love to find out what you think, please let me know in the comments below or over on twitter.