January 6, 2016
Building mobile products that count
I wrote this article for the Huffington Post because in 2016, it’s clear that mobile has eaten the world… Despite my experience at several mobile pioneers for over a decade, I’ve long struggled to wrap my head around the mobile revolution. Soon, I realized I wasn’t alone. This article is my mobile manifesto. I argue that mobile products are extensions of ourselves. What we should expect from them is what we want for ourselves: an attractive body, a meaningful life, and a masterful mind.
Mobile has eaten the world… Yet despite my experience at several mobile pioneers for over a decade, I’ve long struggled to wrap my head around the mobile revolution. It all felt random, and no one seemed to be defining the formula for mobile success. Beyond features and functions, business models and money, what was our vision for the mobile revolution?
I looked for insights from friends and colleagues, trying to uncover the rules behind great mobile products. I sought to identify the commonalities between the most successful ones and understand what the others were doing differently. In addition to my coworkers at Facebook, Nokia, Opera and Trulia, I spoke with executives at mobile pioneers, including Apple, Amazon, Google, Uber, Airbnb, Instagram, Pandora, Yelp, Flipboard, GreenOwl, Lyft, MyFitnessPal, Slack, Tinder, Viber, Andreessen Horowitz, Autodesk and others.
A couple of years ago, I began blogging about what I learned. Soon, readers began sending me their own case studies, perspectives and questions. We became a community of product makers, lovers and thinkers rich of over 10,000 members, who care to build products that count. In 2016, we’re branching out with a class at Stanford University, a book published by Berrett-Koehler and more.
Mobile products that count are extensions of ourselves.
We hope we can simply turn off our smartphones, but very few of us do. In fact, it’s the last thing most of us put down before we go to sleep and the first thing we check when we wake up. We’re not being forced to sleep with our mobile devices within arm’s reach. We want to do it. We don’t want to be separated from it.
The mobile revolution isn’t simply a technological invention from which we can disconnect at any time. We can’t disengage from the air we breathe or from the feet that carry us. Similarly, in today’s world we can’t disconnect from our mobile products.
And as they shrink, they get more and more integrated into everyday objects around us and more and more deeply embedded within us. Great mobile products don’t look inward, focusing soley on churning 1s and 0s; rather, they look out at the world and the people in it. Harnessing the technology is important, of course, but it can be incredibly dense, technical and hard to grasp for anyone but the most dedicated of technologists.
The truth is much simpler. It’s about knowing what makes us human. Being successful with mobile is about us as individuals. It’s about letting people be people both inside and outside organizations. It’s unlearning everything we learned from the industrial revolution about mass production and scale.
What we should expect from our mobile products is what we wish for ourselves.
Let’s not think about mobile for a moment. Let’s think about our lives. What do we love? What do we hate? What do we need help with? Here’s what I believe:
- An attractive body: we are guided and motivated by beauty in all pursuits and we appreciate beauty in two ways: aesthetically and by utility. An athlete’s body is physically attractive, but the muscles, structure and build all contribute to purpose and utility. It’s the same with mobile. There were lots of music programs and software before iTunes, but none of them were as attractive and none were so simple and easy to use.
- A meaningful life: we all seek meaning for ourselves and our communities. Our spirit defines us and marks us as individuals. At the same time, we are each not just individuals; we are a part of larger groups. The best mobile products recognize this duality. They give us meaning as individuals by adapting to our needs and preferences, and they recognize that there needs to be adequate accounting for manners, privacy and other social norms.
- A masterful mind: We learn over the course of our life through trial and error, through experience, through modifications and growth. Adaptability, said Darwin himself, is a matter of survival. The best mobile products not only help us learn but also learn with us. They learn and adapt over time by reacting to and for their users.
Why it matters in 2016.
2015 has been a momentous year for mobile. And because our mobile products are with us always, we do not want to be talked at. So we’ve rejected most of the traditional forms of advertising and mobile ad-blocking tools have proliferated. Mobile users want to interact with brands and with anyone on their own terms.
Companies that want to succeed in mobile need to build mobile products that count, whether they have already transitioned to mobile and seek to grow usage and revenue, or whether they are just getting started and looking for a blueprint to launch and create a positive user experience. If you’re interested to learn more about how to go about it, here are simple things you can do:
- Sign-up to receive our weekly no-spam newsletter at www.productsthatcount.com,
- Enroll in Stanford University’s class “The 3 rules behind the most successful mobile products” -enrolment opens in February at continuing studies.stanford.edu,
- Read the Berrett-Koehler book “mobilized, the insider’s guide to the business and future of connected technology,” -available for pre-order in February on amazon.com.