All Things Not Being Equal

Why trading function for hype is a bad thing.

I can’t read technology articles anymore. It seems that these writers (journalists – not experts, mind you) are increasingly focusing on the hype of the new tech products without getting into any detail about what the products can actually do. I don’t think I can sit through another article comparing two application’s price points without getting into the details about the features of each. It seems like everyone has agreed that saying two products are in the same market space makes them completely equal, feature-wise.

not equalI get that we need to focus on simplicity. We’re trying to do everything on smaller screens using just one finger as an input device. This is going to drive us towards less functionality, more ease of use.

But at what point did we stop caring about what we can actually get done on these devices?

Misinterpreting fashion, style, or hype for actual function or usefulness is dangerous. Unfortunately, I see it manifest itself all the time in different ways when I work with clients.

Here are some of the dangers of forgetting to evaluate the actual usefulness of a thing you might be choosing for your project:

You Get What You Pay For
If you use price as your sole factor in decision-making, you’re always getting the cheapest product. This doesn’t always mean you’re getting a deal; there’s usually a reason it’s inexpensive. Remember, companies can’t sell their products for less than they cost to make and stay in business.

I see the flip side of this in business all the time. Many of our clients decide they want to do something (like build their own software) but don’t consider if they can afford to do that first. And usually if they had thought about it they would realize that they aren’t willing to put up the money to get it done right. They set an arbitrary budget and are befuddled when the team they hired can’t get things done on time or at the level of quality they expect. Building software is hard. It takes a lot of different skills to get done correctly, not just a few crack developers in a basement. Be wary of anyone who says they can build everything you want on a small budget.

You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For
Apple isn’t the highest-valued technology company in the world because they have the most market penetration. That distinction is held handily by Samsung and Google Android devices. Apple is the highest-valued technology company because they charge a premium for their products. Their consumers are choosing to sacrifice substance for style (or “status”). In this case you aren’t paying more for tangible stuff. You’re paying for the logo and the sleek design.

Similarly, companies that rely entirely on staffing agencies to recruit talent are paying a premium for the convenience of not having to do the legwork themselves. What they aren’t thinking about, however, is that if they’re paying 100$/hour for a contractor, they aren’t getting a contractor worth $100. After the recruiter takes 30-40% off the top, they’re getting a contractor who only considers themselves to be worth $60/hour.

Simpler Isn’t Always Better, It’s Just Simpler
I can’t help but laugh every time someone publishes an article predicting the “Death of the PC”. Without PCs, how are developers going to write all of these apps that everyone is so excited about? They aren’t going to be doing that on a phone or a 7” tablet with two fingertips, I guarantee you that.

I love my tablet devices and my smartphone. Can’t imagine living without them. But I can’t get any serious work done on them. Nobody can. Let’s not forget: that’s not what they are for. We are still going to need to be able to all do the stuff that you can’t do on a tablet or phone. That doesn’t diminish the value we get from having tablets and phones. So why are we letting them diminish the value of high-productivity and feature-rich software, not to mention desktop and laptop computers? We are letting home consumers drive the technology planning for business. That’s not a good idea. It’s the polar opposite of what BlackBerry did, and look how well that extreme did for them. The opposite extreme won’t be any better. Something in the middle is usually what works best, in my opinion.

I saw a tweet saying that Microsoft Office was only useful to the “generation that grew up with it”. I find that ridiculous. At worst, it’s as equally useful to anyone as its Google competitor (but I’ll bet if you gave me 20 minutes with both I could find a ton of things in Office that Google hasn’t built yet). To be clear, I’m not saying one is better than the other. I am saying that they are different, and have different audiences with different needs. Reducing them to equals is the kind of “black and white” splitting behavior we’ve all come to expect from the Internet.

The “mine is good, yours is bad” mentality is fun to get caught up in, but when the time comes to actually pick a product for yourself, my suggestion is to spend more time deciding whether it works for your needs and less time on whether it’s the “next big thing”.

Is what you are doing useful or is it the latest trend?  You can Reflect on that and share your reaction with a trusted Thought Partner at

Originally published on September 26, 2013

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