Features, features, features. Since the dawn of man, we have sought out ways to make our lives easier. Some say that Necessity is the Mother of Invention, and while that might have been true at some point in time, I disagree with that statement in the modern world. To me, the mother of invention is a an invention’s ability to make money – and in order for something to make money, it has to make someone’s life easier – usually by allowing them to be more lazy. However, features, are a whole different animal. Features take an otherwise useful invention, and somehow appear to make it even more useful, which consumers find irresistible when justifying to themselves the reasons why they might want something.
I want a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.
The types of features I am talking about are a very specific type. I cannot in my right mind suggest that everything considered a “feature” is a bad thing, however, I can suggest that the vast majority of things both tangible and intangible, are by and large, useless widgets that appear to add value to a particular item.
When I was building this website, I had to resist the urge to add feature after feature to the design. I, myself, am an admitted feature whore where I tend to want to do things because I can. Some of that has slipped through in elements like the mostly useless expandable footer, while I somehow managed to resist the urge to add a color picker so the user could dynamically change the background color. Similarly, when Ralphie finally got his Red Ryder BB-gun, how many times do you think he use the compass? My money is on none, same as the average user on this site likely does not even realize the footer is expandable, much less care.
When I first saw the feature list on the release of the iPhone 3 GS I was somewhat releived. Apple didn’t really go overboard on adding a ton of new features, for the most part, all they really did was improve something which was already pretty good. They made the camera a bit better, made the device as a whole a bit faster, and tweaked and improved a few other elements. What I could not understand is, why the hell did they add a compass? The answer is, because most tech nerds, geeks, and gadget lovers all have one thing in common – just like little Ralphie, we love features.
To liken the addition of a compass to one of the greatest selling toys for adults in history to the compass in that old Red Ryder bb-gun just seems logical. Imagine how useful it will be for you, here I’ll even help a bit: You are out in the woods, lost. No cell phone signal but conveniently you have your iPhone with you. Nothing else, just your iPhone. Oh, and it has a good amount of battery left. You are paniced trying to figure out how you can get yourself rescued. You break out your trusty Compass app and navigate yourself to safety!
Right. Problem is, the above scenerio, will never happen. What will happen, though, are things like this: TwittARound. Some clever developers came up with a way to make the otherwise useless compass feature of the iPhone, even more useless! Just what I always wanted, the ability to spin around in the circle watching the twitter activity of nearby people.
The iPhone’s compass, and the app that uses it in such a usless way, are the perfect embodiment of a misuse of features. The age old addition of a compass to anything, makes us want it more. Many times in my life have I been duped into buying things by getting sold on features which I ultimately never used. Cell phones are not the only offender. Computers, game consoles, cars, pretty much any product on the shelf has some sort of feature we either don’t understand, or don’t need. Yet, that feature is the single thing that made us actually buy said item.
Everything right down to toothpaste and shampoo has usless added features. I remember a while back “Herbal Essence” shampoo commercials touting that their shampoo’s now feature Hawafena! What the hell is Hawafena? I have no idea, and apparently no one else does either, but people wanted it.
Luckily for us, things will always have features. The only thing we can do is become more conscious of what features we need, what will use, and what will will not. It seems that product marketing is already making a return back to simplicity, if not good old minimalism – which will be a topic for another time.