One of the things that must be among the most debated on the web, and blogs in particular, is the whole debate about the right form factor.
Speaking as someone who has been around the IT industry for a while it’s interesting to see how this debate has matured and changed.
In the last few days Steve has commented on jkOnTheRun choice of the TC1100. jk’s evaluation criteria is all about screen and weight.
A little while ago the furrygoat experience defined an evaluation criteria of the basis of the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). It was comical, but primarily about capability.
Bill Gates created an amount of comment by introducing a smaller tablet form factor at the PDC, which I blogged about, as did Mary Jo Foley.
The interesting thing about each of these discussions is what they assume.
- They assume that the new thing will be performant.
- They assume that the new thing will support a rich set of capabilities including connectivity to other systems, sound, colour, etc.
- They assume that the new thing will enable them to access their data
- They assume that the new thing will work on the power supply available
The debate has nothing to do with the basics anymore.
This is also true of the car industry and our choice of a vehicle. But the car industry knows this at a far deeper level than the IT industry.
I’m just in the process of evaluating what my next car will be and the difference is striking.
The way that we choose a car (whether we know it or not) is to assess what we want in many different dimensions and then to choose the one which we believe gives us the greatest level of pleasure. It’s quite a conundrum, but I’m not unique in finding it difficult. There is this really interesting article from the CIA of all people where they define a mechanism for making the decision.
No-one sells a car on the basis that it will do 70 mph on a UK motorway, that’s ridiculous, I assume that. Actually, in the UK you aren’t actually allowed to sell a car on the basis of how fast it will go.
Likewise, no-one would regard air-conditioning as essential in the UK. It’s very nice to have, but not essential. But I would be willing to pay some money for it, because I know the value.
But how much would I be willing to pay for wind-screen wipers that come on automatically. Well that’s a more subjective value judgement.
The requirements that we choose to make our judgement on are a conundrum because the number of hard requirements by which we can assess the impact by is constantly being reduced (comodotised) but the soft requirements are getting longer.
I have in front of me a Renault Scenic catalogue and the hard requirements are summarised on one page in very small print, this page is also nearly the last page in the brochure. Prior to that there are 12 pages of pictures and diagrams and descriptions regarding the soft requirements (umm, do I want satin chrome door handles or not).
Now compare that to the Dell web site about their latest Latitude X1 laptops and what’s the first thing it tells me – it can run Windows XP. Well I’m sorry but that isn’t a sell-able point – I expect that. It would be news if it didn’t. It’s a bit like saying “this car runs on Petrol” as the first thing in the car brochure. It then gets slightly better. This new Latitude is an ultra-light so they start to tell me how heavy it is and how big it is. But it’s still in technical speak that I would need to go and do some work to understand. I’m sorry but I can’t visualise 2.5 lb. What is also striking is the difference in the pictures between the two brochures. In the Renault one the car is always within context. The picture of the storage space has something in it so you can see how large it is. On the Dell web site the pictures of the new ultra-light are all in white space. It’s supposed to be small and light, so I want to be able to see how small and light it is. I’m sorry but I can’t visualise that in a white space.
The Dell web site has come a long way from the early days though, at least it is focusing on the factors which are important to the specific user. It doesn’t, for instance, even mention the available processor speeds or memory configurations on the first page. It’s an ultra-light, that’s what is important to me, I expect it to be performant.
So the industry is maturing, but it’s a long way from the car industry and that’s because the hard factors still play a part, but their role is diminishing.
It is my view that the corporate IT market has even further to go. The way that most corporate keep their IT costs down is by standardising on a small subset of devices, normally from a single supplier. And that is what corporate used to do with company supplied cars, but they normally don’t these days. They may standardise on a manufacturer, but they wouldn’t dare standardise on one or two models. This change in corporate car purchasing isn’t due to the hard factors, it’s due to the soft factors. I’m likely to opt out of my current company car scheme because I don’t like the cars from the manufacturer they have chosen. They are good cars, I just don’t like them. The same is highly likely to happen in the corporate IT market. The soft factors which people are looking for in their devices (because they will have more than one) will greatly outweigh the hard factors. As such it will become increasingly more problematic for corporate to set standards at that level. As a Solution Architect for a large IT Services organisation we already see it at the senior level. If Executive XYZ wants device ABC they will normally get it.
As the soft issues take over the number of form factors and the differences between them will continue to grow, and so will customisation.
- Some people will use a big desktop with a big screen, because some people drive a Range Rover.
- Some people will use a titanium plated ultra-light, because some people drive a BMW Z3.
- Some people will utilise a standard laptop, because some people drive a Ford Mondeo.
- Some people will use a large form factor laptop, because some people drive a Renault Grand Scenic
- Some people will still use the device they have had for the last 10 years, because some people drive a vintage Mercedes sports car.