the science of product design

Did you know this is called a Taraxacum?

Ever made a wish and blown on a dandelion when you were a kid?
Or soccer kicked one out of frustration (or joy)?
I stopped doing that when I found out that the weed was  a nuisance to gardeners and what I was doing was helping the weed proliferate.

Whether you know it or not, plants reproduce in two broad categories: making a lot of seeds and investing very little energy into making them or making one seed and investing all your energy into making them.

People say you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket; but clearly, Mother Nature thinks it’s a fairly good idea.

The dandelion (if you’ve guessed it) employs the first method. It makes a ton of seeds and hopes that at least one of them will make it to a full plant later on. Kinda like cell phone manufacturer Nokia. In their heydays, Nokia had a huge cell phone portfolio producing inexpensive cell phones that proliferated the market.
However, due to their late entry into the smart phone arena, their strategy started shifting.
They churned out phones less and less frequent.
As with plants, if your reproductive strategy is to devote a lot of resources into making one offspring, that offspring better have a high chance of survival.
In this analogy, the cell phone that you produce better be a game changer. Or else the resources put into it will have considered been wasted.

Another case in point is RIM. As much as my patriotism demands me to sing praises for the Waterloo, On-based company, they did screw up quite a few times in the past.
Their strategy route is a mirrored opposite to Nokia’s.
They were successful with pushing out well-designed corporate phones one a fairly regular basis (by no means often though). Focusing on designing the phones and the software and enterprise compatibility.
Then the Torch happened.
There was so much potential. It was touted as Blackberry’s best phone, the game changer.

But it was a bit of a let-down.
Sluggish sales had a pronounced effect on the company’s stock (Aug 2010news).
Then earlier this year, with the introduction of the LG and Samsung phones, it only compounded the problem because these phones gained market share mostly at the expense of RIM.

However, there is a sliver of hope on the horizon (a silver lining if you will).
RIM recently announced the introduction of SEVEN (yes, 7!) new phones.
Read here.

With this, hopefully they can keep up with the competitors and churn out more phones within a fiscal year.
This will help them turn the company around and regain their North American market leader position that they lost to Apple in the smart phone arena.

The take home message is:
Figure out which reproductive strategy you will employ.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages; so choose carefully.

Make sure the strategy aligns with your market position and brand image.
For example, Nokia was “everyone’s phone” so they produced a lot of products. They were the market leaders in the cell phone era which afforded them certain luxuries such as economies of scale.
Later, the sparse product launches did not fit very well with their market position and brand image. Soon people forgot about their phones in favour of newer cooler phones. Nokia was then swept away by the competition.
Nowadays forever relegated to commoner status. Sad.

Any how, I’ve been sitting on this article for way too long.
Publishing it without rereading it.

Just because I can. =P

How about some mango? How about no…kia?

This is a part anecdote and a part about marketing.

Beautiful picture from the Mango page on wikipedia.

So I found out I’m allergic to mangoes a few months ago. I’ve never been allergic to it my whole life leading up to this event.
The story goes:
One day, feeling a bit healthier than usual, I went and made a mango vanilla chocolate banana protein shake.
I out everything in except the mango (because I haven’t peeled it yet). As I finish peeling the mango and proceeded to eat the middle part that I can’t dice up (the seed part), I felt an itch in my eye. I did what any normal human being without a mango allergy would do and scratched my itching eye with my unwashed hands (dropping with mango juice).
I then took the bus and went to school for my routine without.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was napping on the bus, my eyes started to swell. By the time I arrived at school, my eye swelled up as if I’d been in a fight (also seemed like I got beaten pretty badly).
And kids, that’s how I found out I’m allergic to mango.
What does this have to do with marketing? Nothing.

But thank you for indulging me there.
Now onto the marketing bit.

About half a year ago (give our take), Nokia found a new CEO in Steven Elop. This was a pivotal moment in the company’s history because it was his role to steer the back on track. At the early stage of his new job, he delivered a brutally honest speech about the company’s failing state and tried to address what he thought to be the main reason why Nokia went from global market leader to a failing business. This was the famous burning platform memo. You can read ithere. The main analogy was a man standing on a burning offshore oil rig. The decision to change and improve the company was liken to the man’s decision to stay on the rig and wait for rescue, or plunge into the freezing waters of the ocean and not burn to death along with the rig. From the company’s decision to forgo their prized and beloved (newly-developed) operating system, Meego, to marry Microsoft and their Windows 7, they decided to take a leap of faith. But did they jump too early?
There are some arguments for and against.

First of all, was Meego really that bad?
This guy didn’t think so. And generally I agree with him.
I don’t wanna cover the same points he did, but I’ll say a few things:
– Yes it was resource-demanding to maintain the upkeep (MTG reference ftw) of the department, but pay off can be huge.
– Building an entire ecosystem for the phone is not an overnight thing
– Perhaps developers aren’t flocking to your system because they see the lack of support for it in the future (should adopt the “if you build it they will come” philosophy)
– From what I gather from the reviews, people actually like the Meego phones

Second, why Microsoft?
At the time, Windows 7 was horrible. Only recently, with the Mango iteration did users and critics praise the software mogul. Could they have foreseen this? Perhaps.
But really, at least keep your options open and have Android in your portfolio as well!
Most of the top mobile manufacturers own a wide option of operating systems (LG, Samsung, Motorola); maybe Nokia should do the same, make Meego phones, Symbian, and MS 7 Mobile.

Feed the crowd.
Nokia is actually doing a great job with this. They started with the design and continued on with the open SDK to developers on the Meego platform. What Nokia has to do right now is incentivize the development project.
Perhaps a contest? Funding for the developer’s next project (on the order of 1000’s of dollars). Or even give exclusive Nokia freebies (perhaps a customized Meego phone for bragging rights).
Key is, the people who are willing to spend their time to dabble in this are probably not looking for traditional forms of compensation, so find out what they want and provide it as an incentive to them when they build the system.

However, the main thing is: Nokia still hasn’t addressed their issue.
The problem at Nokia wasn’t because of the a horrible OS (okay partially it’s due to a horrible OS), but it’s because of their lack of focus on the smartphone arena – they missed the ride on the wave.
When they decided to play catch-up, they’re not churning out smartphones as quickly and efficiently as their competitors. Even when they do launch a phone, their phone’s qualities aren’t on par with the benchmarks set by others (OS, ecosystem, features etc).

I really hope Nokia does better. Because when it does, hopes of picking Meego back up is exponentially higher. With their own operating system, Nokia will be able to better differentiate itself in the market.
There’s very little Nokia can do right now to turn the Meego project around (especially after being so adamant about dropping it). It’s also too little, too late with the marriage with Microsoft.

I think the best analogy is: Nokia’s boat has a hole in it and is filling up with water quick. Microsoft was left behind at the shore. Out of desperation, Microsoft jumped onto Nokia’s boat (their boat was close by and convenient since it was leaking and didn’t get too far away from the shore). In the end, the hole isn’t patched up. They’re both still sinking.
Fall of a giant.

/gg no re