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Hardware developers still have lessons to learn about bringing products to market

Thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, it seems like everyone is an app developer these days. That's great for the software market, but what about hardware?

Well, there's good news on that front as well. According to a recent article on Wired, small startups are regaining some enthusiasm for developing hardware. The cost to enter the market is lower than ever, and unique funding tactics like crowd sourcing have greatly eased the act of raising capital. What's more, the internet allows the startups to sell new products directly, rather than wait for retailers to pick them up.

However, this doesn't mean that startups have nothing to learn about bringing a product to the marketplace. Quite the contrary. Entrepreneurs still need to figure out how to get customers to buy their hardware, and unlike software developers, they only have so many opportunities to get it right.

How can they make it easier on themselves? Call it the Apple strategy. No, this isn't a reference to Cupertino's legendary penchant for design (though good design never hurt anyone). Rather, it's a reminder of the importance of focusing on a few important features and executing them better than the competition.

Compare, for example, the Apple iPad and the Microsoft Surface. Both are tablet computers, but the Surface, with its attachable keyboard, bills itself as a smaller, lighter laptop with the same functionality. Complete with an array of ports and version of Microsoft Office, the Surface has been billed as the tablet that you can get work done on.

But the iPad? It only has one connector port, and often requires separate adapters. Keyboards aren't included either, and word processing functionality is limited without third-party apps.

The big difference is that the things the iPad does specialize in are handled quite well. Web browsing is fast, and Apple includes a number of first-party apps for messaging and email. The Surface, meanwhile, has long been criticized for being sluggish. You can do anything you want on it, but it might take a while.

This isn't to say that startups should expect to be like Apple out of the gate—even Apple took years to reach its current level. But there are lessons that can be learned from the company.

At Sozo Design, we seek to team up with companies to make great hardware that will appeal to consumers. Our experience with new product design is an asset to those startups that have something to bring to the market, but are not yet sure how to do so.

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