There’s an interesting article in this month’s WIRED about the “Good Enough Revolution”. In it Senior Editor Robert Capps writes about success stories like the FLIP video camera and Skype and argues that “Lo Fi Hi tech” will be a major trend in the coming years. The same issue also contains a lengthy article on Craig’s List and it’s remarkable popularity (despite its primitive interface and low functionality).
Contrast this with the cover of FORTUNE this month, where the main story is on the showdown between the Blackberry and the iPhone. Ironically, WIRED has a similar story comparing and contrasting Palm’s Pre with the iPhone. The common wisdom seems to be that Apple will be hard to beat due to the huge number of applications available for the iPhone platform. But when we talk about app availability aren’t we really talking about creating a customizable feature set? Social media and real world examples like Café Press are often cited when pundits write about the power of the customization trend.
So which way are we headed? Basic feature sets that are easy to use and learn and that provide easy distribution. Or highly specified individual feature sets that require highly specialized knowledge and (in the case of most iPhone features) limited download and upload options?
The answer as always lies with the user. The FLIP video camera is incredibly easy to use. But so is the camera on my iPhone. And I carry my iPhone with me every day. It’s a conscious decision for me to bring along my FLIP. I wonder if I’ll use my FLIP as much when I upgrade to a 3G S iPhone? I can’t think that I would. I have a digital camera that I use for event (wedding, vacations, etc.).
Why do I continue to use it instead of my phone? Because it delivers higher quality images, gives me more options and flexibility in how I choose to take the picture and has a much higher storage capacity than my phone. Score one for the non “lo fi” (I hesitate to call it hi fi) approach to hi tech. And while I didn’t actually customize this camera, I did choose it based on the features I was specifically looking for.
But I also see the other side of the argument. When I use Craig’s List (which is not often) I’m there for a specific task like looking for concert tickets or trying to find an apartment. I don’t want to create a profile or have a guided shopping experience. Yes, it might be nice to have an easier navigation system. But only because my goal is to find what I’m looking for and get on and off the site as quickly as possible.
I think the key here is involvement. When I make a phone call on Skype, I’m not heavily invested in the experience. I want to achieve my task (communication) as simply and efficiently as possible. Just like when I take a photograph with my iPhone, it’s usually impulsive. I’m not looking to capture a permanent record of something I care about. But when I’m on holiday in a beautiful city like Florence or attending a friend’s wedding the experience is much richer and my level of involvement is much higher. So I want the device that provides me with the best method of capturing the detail and extent of that experience.
It’s learning that we can apply to our everyday work in the digital design field. I’ve seen restaurants that deliver rich flash experiences but don’t display their menu. And I’ve seen multi-million dollar brands that provide few opportunities for interaction, when they should be encouraging high degrees of interaction between the consumer and their products. Hotel and airline sites are often classic examples of this.
So which trend will win out? I’m putting my money on both of them. Our world seems to get faster every day and our demand for simple, easy to use tools that can help us optimize our experiences is only going to increase. But when we do choose to slow down, we’re going to want to use goods and services that really deliver something specially tailored to us.
Is your product or service a “convenience play” or an “experience maker”? And do your digital communications reflect that?