Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What makes a product great?

What is it about a product that makes you want to go to a store and buy it? Some people would contend that there are various categories of products in our lives; I can think of three broad categories - the essentials, the luxury items, and the items we covet. Turns out, the items I covet are the ones that have established themselves as "great" products.

Regardless of the criticism leveled at great products, they usually are worthy of the hype that surrounds them. Take the iPhone for instance; it is reviled by a certain segment of the market, but it is hard to argue against the device's merits. From the moment I saw the first commercial for it, till it was pried out of my grubby hands, I was in complete awe of not just its capabilities, but also the attention to detail that had gone into its creation. If a device could have oomph, I'd say that device is the iPhone.

Forget the technology world. My tempur-pedic pillow, a Ferrari, Microsoft One-Note, Quicksilver for the Mac, True Religion jeans - these are all examples of great products. I think I have one part of the "why is this great" equation down. I know a product is great when using it gives me an "Ah-ha" feeling, a rush even. This brings me to a thought I've had all day - our philosophy at Microsoft is to think up a whole bunch of features when we start planning a product, and as we get closer to the ship date, to put certain features on the chopping block. Very often, the features that get cut are the ones that were conceived to give the user that Ah-Ha. Hopefully, the new Zune isn't headed in that direction. I digress...

Back to the thought that triggered this verbal avalanche. Another characteristic of a great product is the process of continuous discovery. As you use the product, it reveals subtle details about itself. Turning and holding the key on most BMWs and VWs rolls the windows up - I learnt this five years into owning one. gViM, my text editor, has many such features, but one I use everyday is auto-indenting (=%).The first time I was entering data on a web form, and I got a drop-down list with previously entered information, that discovery made my day. When listening to music on the iPhone, I happened to receive a phone call. The music's volume faded away as I heard the phone's ring. All these aren't core features, but discovering them endeared each of these product to me.

All of this leads me to my final reason for what makes a product great. When a product I own goes from being a luxury to an essential, when I can't imagine my life without something that I don't own, and ergo covet, it's a sure sign that it is great. It's not that life wouldn't go on without it, life just would be a little less enriched.

So, what do you think makes a product great?

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