The User (Customer) Experience Can Block Competitors

Monday…Another week, another observation…

Something I’ve noticed while working with technology is that remaining a moving target is a good thing. Take Apple, for example. Back in the day when the iPod was all the rage (despite that awful, awful clickwheel), other manufacturers immediately jumped in the ring with their portable MP3 player offerings, like Samsung, Rio, and Microsoft. So, by virtue of being first to market, Apple exposed the consumer want/need for portable MP3 players and also the weaknesses of the iPod for exploitation by competitors. But then Apple evolved the iPod product line–nano, shuffle, touch–all of these came over the following years accompanied by general improvements in hardware and advances in the programming languages used to support the devices’ functionality.

Basically, as the lineup of Apple products evolved so did the customer’s experience. This happened on two levels. First, there was just the validation that came with owning an Apple product. By owning an Apple portable music player, you were seen as someone who was in on the latest-and-greatest technology. And as a result you were someone who probably became a bit more fluent in the changing interaction language of portable devices that Apple was driving. The interactions that came with these devices were the second part of the evolved experience. These interactions were more physical. So, instead of interacting with menus through some thingy you probably couldn’t name on the outside of the device, you were randomizing song order by shaking your device or directly tapping the item on your device’s screen. Such interactions were novel, cool, and gave users an increased perception of control over their device.

The combination of how Apple played into the perception of their customers and the way they evolved their products made them stand out even more from their competitors. In fact, it even made some of their competitors look silly by comparison. And now, everyone is trying to do what Apple did. Some companies are doing a good job of evolving their devices to compete with Apple, but they are lacking in how they validate perceptions of their users. Other companies have done a great job of offering a good user experience and creating a validated perception of their users. For example, think of owners of Android-based phones vs. iPhone owners. Both groups of owners can claim pretty decent user experiences (depending on what they do with their device). Both definitely perceive themselves in certain ways, and the companies that market their products to each base do what they can to support those perceptions. As a result, there is some pretty heavy competition between Android and iOS. But between other mobile phones and them? Not so much.

I’m going to be curious in the coming months to see which companies it begins to hit home that good user–customer–experience can set competitors apart.