Should product evolution be something that’s unpredictable and unplanned, as the name ‘evolution’ itself suggests?
In the light of the continuous and progressive value delivery for the product users, the MVP and several planned product stages might be the right way to go with. Minimum viable product completion means a lot for companies. It is the day when they can get product out into the daylight and start getting real customer feedback, get beaten by the competition, grow user base and enhance the product over time. But how additional product feature plans should be influenced by the factor, that users have to be continuously surprised, excited and motivated to use the product over and over again?
To put the product evolution into perspective – everyone might have seen a pedometer. I know it’s an odd example, but imagine if you’re a runner or a walker and don’t really like using these smartphone apps for some reason. All we know about this little gadget is that when you exercise it measures how much distance you crossed and what the benefit of that is to you, for example – calories burned. It’s meant to record your accomplishment, and show you that you’ve made progress.
Pedometer is very small and fairly functional little gadget. It fit’s in your hand, it has a clip that can clip on to your belt so that while you’re walking or running you don’t have to hold it. It has some basic features, can set a time, you can time yourself, you can record distance, and it has a couple of modes that sort of monitor your progress. Interacting with it is not an exciting experience – grey / black tiny screen and plastic buttons.
For this type of product, which has one core functionality, its feature set, stays the feature set. When you buy this product for a particular reason – you’ll continue to use it the same way for as long as you own it. Therefore capabilities of such product are defined by the hardware, hence counting the number of steps you make in the pedometer example. Therefore, if we think about the minimum viable product – there is none. Releasing new features for physical products is costly, and it cannot happen often, and it has to be produced in large amounts to achieve economies of scale.
So the companies spotted an opportunity, innovated and started merging the hardware with software in areas, that were never been touched previously like wearable technology. Innovation enabled a more enhanced and integrated user interaction. This interaction allowed companies to capitalize on the ‘WOW’ factor, which users experience every time with new software updates and features.
In contrast to a pedometer gadget, Nike teamed up with Apple, a few years back, and created a little gadget called ‘Nike + iPod Sensor’, which works with your iPod to also monitor the progress and your improvement. But what they did with this product was phenomenal. It unfolded into a series of new experiences over time.
If you bought the product, the ways in which you use it kept changing. Apple and Nike kept adding new features and new functions. The small device, the hardware didn’t change, because you used it in conjunction with an iPod. So as you updated the software on the iPod, then it incorporated new features like having a ‘Power Track’ for days when you really feel like going for it, or having social features and tracking your progress, sharing it on social media with your friends – innovation and collaboration.
The case with Nike and Apple illustrates that they kept rolling out new features every three months or so. The way in which you use the device kept changing. it’s core purpose was always the same, but you kept being able to have new experiences with it. It became fresh all over again, when you would update the software. It became new and innovative all over again and created excitement. It created the ‘WOW’ factor, and provided cool experience all over and over again. The evolution was happening in the ‘brains’ even though the physical form of the product kept being the same.
One of the latest iterations from the same company, from Nike+ is called FuelBand. You put the gadget on the wrist, and the whole purpose of this is to inspire you to get active by recording all your activity and converting it into, what Nike calls, new fitness currency. What it essentially means is that it tracks your day to day activity and measures it through what they call fuel. The more active you are, the more fuel you get rewarded with every day. And the amount of fuel you get, gets indicated on the band as you’re doing something. So you decide in the beginning of the day, what level of fuel you want to reach that day. The FuelBand shows you how close you are to achieving that that goal via series of LEDs that go from red to green. As they go towards green, it means you’re getting close to your target. It interacts with you.
So the Nike+ FuelBand uses the same principles as a pedometer. It records data by your exercise, in form of steps, Nike fuel or calories. As a fitness or tracking device it’s cool looking and you nearly forget that you’re wearing it.
The long ‘WOW’ customer value creation part of the Nike+ FuelBand is that it’s integrated with the Apple iPhone, or the iPod Touch. There’s three different screens, you get key stats, for the day, you have the fuel total, you have at a glance access to performance against your target. Calories, steps, distance. You’ve got graphical representations of your activity for any period of time. Day, week, month, year so you know when you’re most active. They have awards that you get along the way, and it also changes.
The connectivity between hardware and software allows to keep the product exciting with the new features, new functions. Companies aim to create a long ‘WOW’ factor through product evolution, over an extended period of time. And the reason for this is obvious – all customers would keep having new experiences, which they would be continuously impressed over and over again with the device. As opposed to plain old pedometer that measures your steps, but doesn’t give you any excitement by uncovering the whole other side which is achieved once the core functionality of the pedometer is transformed into interfaces that interact with users through software.
It’s not a secret that software enables us to enhance the basic hardware functionality. Once the data which can be tracked without the help of hardware like time of the day, amount of sleep per day, weather conditions are merged and integrated all together – there is a whole new world of possibilities of how product owners can create a long term positive engagement with the customers, and provide them much greater value and excitement.