A new article by Robert Capps at Wired called “The Good Enough Revolution” puts forth an interesting hypothesis: the fundamental definition of Quality has changed from delivering excellence in all areas to delivering something that is ‘good enough’ but very easy to use and accessible.
Here are some examples:
- The Flip Video camera – fairly mediocre camera, but is extremely easy to use and sharing video online is simple.
- MP3 – lower quality sound than CD’s or vinyl, but successful due to ease of access
- Skype – laggy and less reliable, but the free computer to computer calls are good enough for many!
- Web Apps (e.g. Google Docs) – lacking features of full apps, but offer anytime access and are free
- Netbooks – trading a full experience for a smaller one
He then goes on to try to also bring in unmanned military planes and so-called ‘micro-clinics’ as proof of the ‘Crapification of Everything’ or ‘Good Enough Revolution’. My basic problem with the article is that it is never clear whether he thinks this is good or bad – or more specifically, he seems to flagellate between those opinions.
I have read multiple lamentations over the years about how the music industry has struggled with the low-quality MP3 format – not just in terms of piracy issues, but in technical terms. In recent years studios will not only produce ‘Masters’ using high quality near-field monitors on the lossless recordings, they will produce MP3 versions and preview them using earbuds. The issue here is that the 128kbps standard MP3 format song that was common five to ten years ago was easily identifiable as inferior in sound quality to a CD copy using anything but the cheapest playback equipment.
However, since then the standards in digital music have become much better in terms of both bitrate but also the sampling technology, such that a 256kbps AAC file has much more than double the sound quality of a standard 128kbps MP3 file. But that is almost beside the point – MP3 technology has an inherent advantage over physical storage because … well, it isn’t physical.
What about the rest of it? I will not dispute that the Flip Video is a fantastic piece of hardware – it does exactly the right thing at exactly the right price. But as several folks here have stated – now that the iPhone has top-notch video capabilities built-in, the Flip product could quickly become an endangered species.
It is easy to cite examples where less capable products have superseded more capable products. My favorite example of that is PDAs. I still have three classic PDAs: HP200LX, Newton MessagePad 2100, and Psion Revo. All of these have been unavailable for a decade or more, yet in many ways each has features that have been unmatched in newer and ‘better’ products. It is easy to point out how the Palm and Windows Mobile PDAs represented backwards steps in computer OS integration, technical functionality, organizer elegance, handwriting recognition, and so on compared to these older devices. Yet the newer devices deliver the convenience of direct computer synchronization and, more recently, cell phone capabilities.
Customers make value judgments all the time – what will I pay for and how much will I pay for it? There have been articles about the impact of free products on the overall marketplace, which seems a more interesting discussion.
So what do you think? Has new product success become all about just hitting the lowest common denominator or is there still room for elegance and innovation and premium pricing attached to those types of products?