When Customers Have Had Enough Innovation
Many of the products that touch our lives every day have maturated steadily over the course of decades, including automotive, manufacturing, and entertainment. The mobile industry is a bit of an outlier. While the elements of the technology have developed as a subset of telecommunications over a breadth of time, the current evolution of smartphones is occurring at break-neck speed.
I would consider myself an early adopter. In the 1990's, I was a big fan of PDA devices, which led me to create the first device-specific OtterBox cases. The issue then was that the PDA was a great data tool, but it wouldn't 'speak' with a pocket-sized cellular device in a seamless manner. At the time, I remember hoping for a single device option, but I thought we were much further away from the type of technology we have today.
Being embroiled in this industry, it's been amazing to watch the ebbs and flows and rapid consumer-driven evolution of technology and design. The mobile industry offers a great view of how customer demands transform, and even calm, an industry.
People are starting to take their devices very personally. Anyone with an Apple device will probably know exactly which one it is—that's part of the magic created by limiting the launches to one per year versus many. It becomes an event rather than a frustration because the device you upgraded to just last month is now obsolete.
Android device manufacturers seem to be taking a lesson from Apple. Consumers want staying power. Device lifecycles have become so short that within weeks, what was considered a top-of-the-line mobile seems like a clunky dinosaur.
In the last year, manufacturers have markedly cut down on the number of new launches—focusing instead on a few key devices. And, Android devices—especially from Samsung—are truly gaining traction. Estimates for 2011 had Samsung devices outselling Apple globally—manufacturers don't typically release the actual number of devices sold, so analysts expounded this from earnings reports. The latest launch from Samsung, the Galaxy S III, has some truly impressive technology, ergonomics and general styling.
Admittedly, it was exciting to watch all of the breakthroughs and new features rolled out on a monthly basis but for OtterBox, this can make us feel like we're a gerbil on an exercise wheel—always chasing the next thing. For consumers, it is truly head-spinning. They have spoken. Just look at the loyal following Apple has developed.
It's all about user experience. Customers speak more loudly now than ever before. Companies have to listen more carefully, too, because the competition has its ears open as well. Listening goes beyond hearing what is explicitly said. Companies must be prepared to innovate by hearing what customers are not saying and creatively solve problems that are being vocalized.
CURT RICHARDSON | Columnist | Founder and CEO of OtterBox
OtterBox founder and CEO Curt Richardson created the first prototype of a waterproof case in his garage in the early '90s. OtterBox evolved into a leader in protective cases for mobile technology.