Multifunction Devices: what's your take?

9 Dec 2005 - 4:28am
700 reads
Lada Gorlenko

An interesting view on multitasking devices from Forrester,
particularly, The Rules Of Portable Multitasking.

Do you agree as a designer? Do you agree as a consumer?


Research & Event Highlights From Forrester
06 Dec. 2005

Where Have All The Single-Function Devices Gone?
Today's cell phones can play MP3s, and the newest MP3 players can play
video and view photos. PDAs roll numerous productivity and
entertainment functions into one handheld device: email, calendar,
voice, camera, music, and video. Consumers faced with so many
technology choices are forced to ask themselves when a device crosses
the line from manageable multitasker to operational overload.

The Rules Of Portable Multitasking
Device-makers interested in producing a multifunction portable device
should heed the following lessons:

No. 1. Don't obfuscate the core function of the device. Learn from the
mistakes of the iPod photo -- focus on your device's primary function
and market additional capabilities to consumers who are already sold
on the core purpose. Although the iPod retained its photo-viewing
capability, the return to the simpler iPod name restores the device to
its true intention: music.

No. 2. Only add functions that don't detract from the core
application. Although they don't detract from voice functions, camera
phones -- with their low resolution, hard-to-focus lenses, and small
screens -- won't replace consumers' standalone digital cameras. But
there are distinct times when consumers will opt for their camera
phone: when they want to quickly share a photo with friends (26%) or
when it's the only camera they have with them (37%).

No. 3. Price multitasking devices based on primary markets.
Smartphones -- those handy devices that allow consumers to combine a
portable voice device with productivity functions -- appeal to a wide
range of consumer segments. Audiovox's SMT 5600 might appeal to a more
mainstream voice consumer who desires a richer mobile experience
enabled by a familiar Windows OS. However, Palm's Treo 650 -- with its
QWERTY keyboard and proprietary Palm software -- appeals to
businesspeople who wish to be constantly in touch via email and SMS.
These devices are priced accordingly: The SMT 5600 targets the average
consumer at $150; the Treo goes for the business market, priced at
$299 and up.

No. 4. Watch users carefully. In his book Democratizing Innovation,
Eric von Hippel cites that depending on industry, 10% to 40% of
customers modify products for their own use. Keeping a close eye on
the habits of these "lead users" is critical to innovating quickly and
avoiding the risk of multifunction overload. One interesting example
is the iPod shuffle. After seeing that lead users of the iPod were
using the shuffle feature with great regularity, Apple decided to
actually strip down features to better serve these users at a lower
price point. This is a great example of consumer-driven innovation --
going against the multifunction device tide -- with great success, by
keeping a close eye on users.

The Future Of Portable Multitaskers
Today's trends in portable multitasking devices raise some questions
for the future of CE.
+ Will the BlackBerry displace the laptop? No. The BlackBerry works
for short correspondence like email, but for productivity like
calendar and contact management and for voice, its small size is a
shortcoming that it can't overcome. Most consumers won't use a
BlackBerry to read documents of any length or to play active
multiplayer games like Doom. And fear of "BlackBerry thumb" will
prevent anyone from composing a novel -- or even a novella -- on their
addictive PDA.
+ Will satellite radio and MP3 portable devices converge? Yes, they
already have with Sirius Radio's S50. As soon as Apple, Dell,
Creative, or Sony can strike a deal with XM and/or Sirius, music,
sports, talk, and news fans everywhere will rejoice. An audio device
any way you slice it, the dual MP3-satellite radio functionality
appeals to comparable consumer markets, and neither function detracts
from the other. This MP3-satellite radio device merger makes so much
sense that we're surprised that a portable audio multitasker like this
hasn't already happened.
+ Will the cell phone replace the iPod? Maybe. Motorola's ROKR,
Samsung's SCH-A950, and Sony Ericsson's W800i have taken strides to
make phone-based audio content management and enjoyment easier for
consumers. But the mobile music experience that these devices deliver
still cannot compare with that of Apple's iPod. Device-makers will
have to up the ante on mobile storage, software, and processing speed
to get consumers to reach for their cell phones when they want to hear
Eminem's Curtain Call album. And with the PC currently at the center
of the consumer digital music experience, cell phones will need to
operate as smoothly and seamlessly with the PC as an MP3 player -- or
consumers will continue to opt for their iPods.

So while multitasking rules among today's portable devices, this trend
doesn't spell the end of the well-purposed, functionally focused
device. Devices that combine portable form with focused, collectively
appropriate functions -- like Sony's PSP gaming and audio/video
functions -- will conquer their target markets.

+ MP3 player adoption more than doubled in 2004, to 11% of US
+ Nearly one-third of North American households make half or more of
their long-distance calls from home on a mobile phone.
+ North American households with broadband watch TV two hours less per
week than offline households and spend an hour less per week reading

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