Focus Groups: Missing The Forest

The tech. blogosphere is awash with wailing and gnashing of teeth over the iPad. No built in camera. No support for Flash. No USB ports.

Obviously Steve Jobs and the people at Apple didn’t set up focus groups of technology-savvy geeks before designing the iPad.

I’d argue that when it comes to introducing great new technology, a focus group of any sort, let alone tech-savvy geeks, is probably the worst sort of tool you can use to determine what features to put in your product. There is an old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. And for tech. products this is surely true.

The fact of the matter is consumers in general don’t always know what they want in a product. If someone had asked, back in 1983, what computer buyers wanted – very few, if any, would have said anything at all about a mouse, or a graphical user interface. And the ability, someday, to watch TV shows, listen to music, edit photographs, or connect wirelessly with a quarter of the world’s population was far beyond what 99% of people could even conceive of.

Why doesn’t the iPad have a camera, a USB port, or support for flash? Because it doesn’t need them. Some people think they might want them. But putting these “features” in the iPad would have made it cost more. Made it more susceptible to viruses or hacking. Burned up more battery power.

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