Breaking through

What makes a breakthrough product?  What’s the secret sauce that anoints one version of an idea while ignoring others?

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Charles Wilson has a couple of nice posts on the Kindle (Kindle Up; breakthrough devices) and a great find in a link to The Kindle vs. the Gadget Hall of Fame, which compares Kindle’s first year sales to other “breakthrough” products like the iPod, Blackberry, Palm Pilot, and Razr… and begs the question.

So what makes a breakthrough?

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This is no idle question.  Palm Pilot was not the first personal digital assistant; At least thirteen mp3 players had a headstart on the iPod; and now Sony’s E-reader (and some also-rans) are watching as Amazon’s Kindle breaks through.  It does no good to be first on the market if someone else can easily pass you by.

I suspect most designophiles (and I must count myself among them) would take this opportunity to point out how it’s the little details that differentiate one product from the next–a better screen, longer battery life, slimmer packaging.

But the Kindle offers us another lesson: ITNS (Like it’s cousin, KISS) It’s The Network, Stupid.

Kindle may or may not be a better product, but if you had a product that owned the Amazon.com home page–how many would you be able to sell.  According to Alexa, Amazon has a daily traffic ranking for the past 6 months that puts it in the top 20 – 30 sites visited, and is–daily–reaching 2-3% of the visitors to the web (disclaimer: as I understand Alexa’s terminology).

Don’t get me wrong–great design sells products.  But if I had to choose between a great design and mediocre distribution partners or a mediocre design but great distribution partners, I would go for the latter.  If it was good enough for Bill Gates…

So when it comes to breakthrough products, let’s give credit where credit’s due.  Lest we want to celebrate great designers and chase great design when the real advantage comes from the (usually backstage) network builders who make those designs succeed in the market.

         

One thought on “Breaking through

  1. Love it, great post, isn’t it brilliant when you read something that strikes such a chord with you. I have this disease/obsession, it’s good to hear other do to.

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