Essays on Technology and Culture

Right Trumps Fast

We’ve all grown rather impatient in the Internet age. Apple, who released “revolutionary” products in 2007 and 2010 with the iPhone and iPad, respectively, have been endlessly criticized for not putting out another revolutionary product in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013. People are screaming at the developers of iOS apps to release a new version with an iOS 7 style user interface and icon. [1] We gush over Samsung putting out a smart watch before Apple, and only just temper our gushing when the product comes out half-baked, at best. Everything needs to be done and ready yesterday. Web app add new features, then bang at them to get them mostly working if they’re not distracted by the next shiny object.

This may be a function of the instant feedback we get from our technology. If you’re not sure if an idea to improve a product comes to us, you can quickly hack up some basic functionality, and test it out on audiences. A/B testing of copy, button placement, and even prices is common among startups and established companies alike. Leveraging the instant feedback and data collection we have access to improve a product or maximize revenue is not a bad thing, but it gets fiddly, and can be a distraction from making the actual product as good as it can be. When you rush something out the door with fundamental flaws that you might not even know about until it’s being hammered by real people, no amount of A/B testing will fix the underlying issue.

On a recent episode of CMD+Space, Chase Reeves described how he takes a few days when creating a new design or product to just let himself go crazy before finding the right place to focus. It reminded me of On Writing, Stephen King’s memoir and guide to the craft of writing. There, King suggests putting a completed draft in a drawer for six weeks, so that when you go back to edit, you see it with fresh eyes. In technology, you often don’t have that luxury, but if we can squeeze in a little time for reflection before adding a new feature, implementing a new pricing strategy, or even changing the focus and priority, the perspective of distance can often change how we see something compared to when we’re in the heat of the moment. It’s easy to get caught up in what “everyone else” is doing, or whatever may be the hot trends out there to catch up on. They’re easy answers to hard and complicated problems, and easy answers are rarely the best.

This is why there’s something to be said for taking your time and getting what you want to put out into the world right, over getting it out fast. Apple is the king of this. They release products on an (usually) annual cycle of incremental revisions, but only create new product categories when the first thing they can put out is up to their standards and done “right” in their eyes. We had touch screen smartphones and tablets years before the iPhone and iPad, but those two products, because of their long and careful gestation, got right what those previous ones got so wrong. In both their wakes, competitors products tried to glue the things the iPhone got right to their products to make them competitive, missing out that what made the iPhone and iPad “right” was the holistic combination of hardware and software, not just adding features for the sake of having them.

So, what makes something “right”? This is a subjective thing, but the best way to be sure your choices are actually right is to be true to a promise and a goal. Are you trying to create a tool for developers to collaborate on code? A forum that allows people to ask others developers for help with their project might be a great additional feature. It drives growth and engagement, and keeps everyone under one roof. However, it comes with costs—you have to have people administer the forum, deal with spam and trolls, and spend time integrating it with your existing infrastructure. Are the benefits of this new feature going to be worth the distraction from the core product? Think about it. And take your time.

  1. And then screaming again when that developer makes it a paid upgrade/new app to offset the cost of all the work they put into the new version.  ↩