I have been thinking about the theory of great products a lot. I would say, in fact, that I have thought more about the craft of creating great products — software and hardware — over the past few years than at any time before in my life. It wasn’t until the last few years that I really started to understand the word “magic” and what it means to a truly successful product.
It is funny to think of this as new learning. Our powerOne Graph for Palm OS devices, written seven years ago, still has a loyal following and customer base. I hear all the time from customers who buy old Palm devices on eBay just to keep using powerOne Graph. And if you ask any of the dozen people involved with that project they would still tell you how amazing the experience was, how liberating it felt as we saw it come together, and how awesome the response was from those that used it.
To me that was luck. I don’t think it was specifically thought through at the time. We were just trying to make a better mouse trap and succeeded. How to repeat that experience — but with a more financially viable product — is what I am striving for.
The magic is what makes a customer stand up and pay attention. Apple has been very good at this and is one of the things I admire about the company. The iPod, for instance, made it brain-dead simple to carry around your entire music collection. Other examples: the PalmPilot gave me personal information at the point where it was needed; Roku streamed web programming to my television with a remote control the same way I watch other television programs; Dropbox gives me my files wherever I need them; Visicalc automatically calculated every time I changed a number; Siri takes care of whatever I need.
What I have come to realize just in the past few days, though, is that magic is not singular; it’s plural.
I believe there are actually two parts — an inner magic and outer magic — and without both parts, a product will fail. The PalmPilot’s inner magic was that it made it brain dead simple to have personal information wherever I needed it. But its external magic was that it fit in a shirt pocket. Before that handhelds were more the size of tablets than smartphones. Siri’s internal magic is that it takes care of my needs. Its external magic is that it does that without me having to type or think about what I need — I just ask.
Without the two, the product is nice but not impressive. Take away any one and there are problems. Take away the inner beauty and using the product becomes a problem. It is not usable. Take away the outer beauty and selling the product becomes a problem. No one will show it to their friends and showing it to friends is what drives adoption quickly.
As I have alluded to a few times here, we are working on something new. We were preparing to ship next week but realized that it is lacking outer magic and needs more refinement. I believe we are on to something big. I don’t want to release a half-thought-through experience.