Evidence Consumers Do Not Buy Tech Specs

One theme I know I harp on is “consumers don’t buy tech specs”. The premise is that people won’t buy something just because it has superior technology over the competition. Faster this, more that or newer whatevers aren’t a driving factor when people make buying decisions (and this goes for other products like cars and toasters, not just consumer electronics). Sometimes a company’s marketing pitch will focus largely on the technology specifications, but it doesn’t resonate with consumers, and it can sometimes baffle or confuse them. Okay, so I make this assertion, but what do I have to prove it?

I have two examples of this. The first goes back in time, to the first MP3 players. Look back on what was out there, vs. what people bought. People bought iPods. Lots and lots of iPods. Such that Apple owned, at one point, 80% of the MP3 player market overall, and 85% of the hard-drive based units. And they held that lead for a long, long time (relatively speaking). This was in the face of competing units that had more storage, smaller sizer, better battery life, extra features like FM radios, and lower prices. It didn’t matter. The iPod was what people wanted, and it wasn’t out of “fanboi-ism” or simple wanting to be hip. Apple sold far too many to be considered “hip”. They were the mainstream. The iPod wasn’t the quirky outsider, the iconoclast that did it’s own thing. It was “the thing”. It set the standard by which other MP3 players were judged. It wasn’t the Subaru Brat of MP3 players, it was the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord of portable entertainment: dependable, predictable and the “easy choice”. The name even fell into the same role as “Kleenex” or “Xerox”: the word “iPod” was used to describe all MP3 players.

Okay, so this is one example. A second, more recent occurrence that reinforces my point is the dedicated e-book reader. While hard numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence says that the Kindle was and is the most popular dedicated e-book reader in the  US, but a large margin. But until the recent release of the Kindle Touch, the Kindle wasn’t the leader in terms of specifications. Nook offered touchscreens and colour support 2 years before the Kindle Touch arrived. Sony offered a smaller form-factor e-reader at least a year before the a smaller Kindles arrived. Sony also offered touch screens far in advance of Amazon. But people bought the Kindle for reasons other than technology. If technical specifications mattered the most, then the Kindle would not be the leader in the market.

The iPod and the Kindle both have one thing in common, that resulted in their leadership positions: content. The iPod was a moribund product until 2 things happened. First, Apple added Windows support, meaning that the iPod was available to the largest user-based in personal computing. Second, Apple started up iTunes, making it cheap and easy to get music. Without those two events, the iPod would have been the iconoclast, the quirky hipster used only by a small number of people. The Kindle wasn’t the first dedicated e-book reader, but it came out of the gates with substantially more content than it’s competitors. In both cases, content begets content: the more you have, the more others that provide content want to be available on your service. It’s a virtuous cycle that builds on itself.

I fully expect the Kindle Fire to be a resounding sales success. Why? Content. The technical specs will be secondary to it’s success. The Kindle Fire has, by far, the most modest of technical specifications of any mainstream tablet. It doesn’t have a huge amount of storage. It doesn’t have cameras, GPS, motion sensors, a compass, microphones or external storage options. It isn’t even the sexiest or most compelling from an industrial design standpoint. It is a device built for one thing: consuming Amazon’s content. And that content is what will drive sales. It has technical specifications that are “good enough”. They get the job done. But the Kindle Fire technology isn’t what is going to move millions of the things, and even the price (while attractive) isn’t its most important feature. It is the content that will matter, at the end of the day.

If technical specs mattered so much, there are other tablets out there with more or better (and more or better than the iPad). The iPad has succeeded, not because of the specs, but because people can “do things” with it. The Kindle Fire will likely succeed for the same reason: people can do things. The actual technology is, at best, a secondary consideration.