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Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

Windows Phone, iPhone 4S, and what the people want

I know I shouldn’t be surprised when corporate executives say silly things without the slightest sense of irony, but it still floors me every time. Here is Andy Lees, the head of Microsoft’s Windows Phone business, talking about the iPhone 4S in the Seattle Times Newspaper:

From a pure hardware perspective, I was surprised they’re not giving the consumer more choice. People want a variety of different things.

When you read that statement next to this Apple press release, you’re left scratching your head:

Apple today announced pre-orders of its iPhone 4S have topped one million in a single day, surpassing the previous single day pre-order record of 600,000 held by iPhone 4.

If you say something like “people want a variety of different things”, you should probably back that up with the number of Windows Phone phones (is that how you’re supposed to say it?) that have been pre-ordered or sold. I haven’t seen that press release from Microsoft.

Update (10/13): Looks like we now have those numbers. Horace Dediu reports that Windows Phone has sold just a few more units in 3 months as the iPhone 4S sold in 24 hours:

During the last quarter for which we have data (ending June) I have an estimate that Windows Phone sold only 1.4 million units (Gartner’s sell-through analysis suggests 1.7 million). That gives Microsoft a 1.3% share of units sold (Gartner 1.6%), a new low.

The other problem with Andy’s statement about people wanting more options is that it’s just, well, not true. Harry Marks aptly points to this TED talk on the paradox of choice, and quotes Barry Schwartz:

With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.

You want an iPhone? Here it is. Choose your storage size and have fun. You want a Windows Phone phone? Here are a variety of models to choose from. Try to enjoy figuring out which one is best for you.

All of this reminds me of a classic answer on Quora to the question Why is Dropbox more popular than other programs with similar functionality? Michael Wolfe makes the point that Dropbox is so successful because it focuses on one thing, and doing that one thing really well. That one thing is a folder that syncs your stuff. That’s it.

“But,” you may ask, “so much more you could do! What about task management, calendaring, customized dashboards, virtual white boarding. More than just folders and files!”

No, shut up. People don’t use that crap. They just want a folder. A folder that syncs.

The root cause of the problem is the lingering fallacy that more features = a better product. For all the talk about the importance of simplicity, and the growing list of successful products that just do a few things well, we just can’t seem to get rid of this belief that more = better. Andy Lees also falls into this trap in the Seattle Times interview:

The more capabilities we add into our phone, the more delightful it becomes to use because you seem to have more at your fingertips without this clutter and confusion of the other platforms.

More capabilities = less clutter and confusion? Really? To bring this all the way back to Design and the problem with this type of thinking, here is Scrivs in Focus:

The best designs always have a singular focus. The prettiest designs might have multiple things you can focus on, but that doesn’t make them the best designs.

We live in a time where there is so much happening around us that when we are able to use anything that has a singular focus it makes it easy. When we don’t have to make a decision on how we are supposed to use a design it makes it easy. You can’t beat focus. More features don’t beat focus. More doesn’t beat less unless the less is crap.

Turns out that when it comes to technology, in most cases people don’t want a variety of different things. They want one thing that works really really well. And that’s why the iPhone 4S got more than one million pre-orders in a single day.