Simplicity achieved?

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The rise and rise of products like Apple’s iPod and applications like Firefox and Flickr have gotten me thinking. What do those products have in common?

Simplicity. They aren’t bogged down with hundreds of options and all provide a basic service that people want and provide it well. Flickr is possibly an exception as once you start digging it can be very powerful and complex, but if you just want to upload some snaps and share them with friends it is simple.

So, is the popularity of these products down to their simplicity? Are we all just sick of bloated software that takes minutes to start up, and has hundreds of features we never use? Are we sick of the latest gadget that now has “67 brand new features” that just make accessing the basic functions twice as hard?

The trend a few years ago was to cram in feature after feature with the aim of adding value to products. However there is a tipping point for all products and soon enough the features being added weren’t adding value but detracting it. The more complex and hard to use a product is, the lower the perceived value.

The rise of the iPod is of particular interest. Launched in November 2001, it has added remarkably few new features over it’s three and a bit year lifespan. Whilst other MP3 players have added FM radio, recording facilities, built-in microphones, and alarms to name but a few of the myriad of possible features, Apple concentrated on making the iPod friendly and easier to use, but never really adding to the basic feature list – I don’t think that 3rd party developers can really be included as the majority of users will never install anything on their iPod that hasn’t come from Apple. I would guess that the bulk of people who own an iPod don’t own any other add-ons either, despite their proliferation.

So what is the mass appeal of the iPod. It can’t ALL be about looks, and whilst the current trend can be put down to fashion I don’t know many people who, having held one in their hands, didn’t at least admire the design. Naturally power users will want something that can do more but that doesn’t seem to be harming, or slowing, iPod sales.

In the modern day and age where information skips past us at an alarming rate, where technology doesn’t leap but BOUND forward at a remarkable speed, the less threatening and complicated a product is the more likely it is to have mass consumer appeal.

I wonder for how long this trend will continue.