Innovate and Disrupt – With a Slant On Sociology

April 14, 2008

Garmin Cooks Up Mobile Swiss Army Knife

Garmin is highly successful in what they have done so far – built an excellent brand and convenient solution to their target users. They just announced to offer Mobile TV and bunch of other features in their up coming product nuvi 900T and I think is a big mistake – and here is why.

Companies typically fail (typically being the operative word here) when they try to bring new features and functionality into their products without proper contextual and circumstantial usage analysis.

The biggest problem with technologist and innovative companies is they tend to offer features based on product attributes and demographic rather than “jobs-to-be-done”. Few Harvard researchers have concluded that circumstance based product evolution has a higher rate of success than attribute and demography based product evolution.

For example ….

When a user is using a particular product or device, that particular user is trying to get a job done for which he has “hired” that product to deliver that job. When I am waiting at airport, and quickly checking my email on my blackberry, I am trying to be productive in the limited amount of time I have, while I am waiting at the airport. I have “hired” my blackberry to help me get the job of “being productive while I am waiting in boredom” done. Similarly, I “hire” my blackberry or cell phone to make quick phone calls to be productive in my professional and personal life.

Marketers need to recognize the circumstance in which I am going to hire a particular product for a particular job. Continuing with the same blackberry example, when I don’t have any limitation of time or resources, I would hire my laptop or my work PC to check and send emails. For the same job of making call, I would hire my landline when at work, where as I would hire my cell phone or blackberry when I am away from my landline. Landline vs. mobile phone might be bad example outside the business environment, as most people are replacing their landline completely in their private life, but you get the point.

Harvard research concluded that …

Users “hire” products for jobs based on the context and circumstance in which they need to get those jobs done.

I would like to extend that theory further and say ….

Users are willing to pay incremental costs for features that help the “jobs” a particular product is hired to do.

Users would also be willing to have additional features without incremental cost and unwanted inconvenience to their present context or circumstance.

Just because I read my daily news on the Internet, I would not try to read news while I am driving. I get it from my audio/radio devices. At the same time, I could use my Bluetooth headset to talk on my blackberry while I am driving or not driving because hands free talking on the phone is not as dangerous as reading news on my blackberry while driving.

Who uses Garmin?

Ø People who are traveling to new places/locations where they need help with directions.

Ø Some people use it for places/locations that they are familiar with but challenged directionally.

Ø Some people use them to go from places they don’t know to places they know (for example returning home, etc)

What are the limitations of the context in which user’s use Garmin?

Ø Typically when you are driving and little concerned about your ability to navigate to your destination, your stress levels are higher than normal levels.

Ø “Typically” it is on the dashboard in the view of the driver. Driver is constantly switching between his view of the road/traffic and Garmin step by step directions. This gets little easy when you have voice activation.

Ø When you have voice activated navigation and it is not integrated with your car speakers/audio, you are limited to consume radio/music through your car speaker system.

Ø No matter how good Garmin’s navigational system is, drivers would like to reconfirm or revalidate their paths by speaking with someone in that neighborhood – gas stations, etc – as long as it is possible. Most of the time they call the destination host to revalidate their path.

Why use Garmin?

Ø People “hire” Garmin device for getting from point A to point B and for getting step-by-step voice activated directions.

Garmin is a highly differentiated product and the success of this product is directly dependent on how accurately it navigates its “hirers” to get to their destination in the least amount of time, avoid traffic jams and stress free journey.

What else can you offer Garmin “hirer” that help them in the context in which they use Garmin?

Ø Ability to customize frequent locations – such as home, office, day care, etc.

Ø Ability to do local business searches – restaurants, post office, police station, nearest gas stations, etc.

I believe Garmin and their competitors do offer above two benefits.

What else could Garmin offer to their “hirers”?

Ø Users could “hire” Garmin for navigating them in case of traffic jams and construction – dynamically instead of getting stuck in the gridlocks. Currently most of them offer detour option only if the users select voluntarily. Dynamic navigation based on the current traffic conditions could be a great feature to have. (am not sure if they offer this currently and I stand corrected if they already do)

Ø Users could “hire” Garmin for radio/news/music – mainly to those users who do not have integrated navigation systems. This way, users could hire Garmin for audio entertainment instead of having to “hire” their car audio systems. Garmin offers satellite radio. Some of the navigation systems offer MP3 capabilities but that doesn’t fit user’s usage context as most of the time people leave their nav devices in their cars and forget to load or reload music from their mp3 collection. I feel a radio to be a better feature than mp3 or Photo viewer.

Ø Garmin could let me make some phone calls while I am driving. We see lot of people “hiring” their mobile phones to talk while driving. When you use a cell phone along with Garmin’s voice activation, the user experience is not the best as both voices could overlap with each other. If you integrate calling service within Garmin, then voice feature could be integrated much more efficiently with the ongoing phone call (more though required here to define this user experience). Nuvi 900T offers this.

Ø Garmin competes with street maps, gas stations/seven eleven’s where user’s would pull into to get directions. If users are not completely happy with the navigation they are getting from their Garmin, Garmin could build a “direction helper” network with gas stations and businesses where store cashiers could take dynamically routed calls from Garmin users who are in their neighborhood to provide “human” navigation that would help the drivers have a stress free journey. Garmin could pay these “helper networks” per phone call they have received or on a monthly basis, while charge their own customers extra for this “premium” one of a kind navigation feature. “Helper network” could also offer additional suggestions from locals – offer suggestions based on their own experience of the neighborhood – best restaurants or safe neighborhoods or local entertainments.

Ø Garmin could compete with the likes of OnStar in providing roadside assistance to those users who do not have similar benefits from their car brands (esp. in the low-end car market).

Ø Garmin could offer location based services based on the time of day – such as Lunch/Dinner deals, rest room breaks, service station alerts, and so forth.

Garmin’s nuvi 900T comes with TV Player, audible player, picture viewer, FM radio, Music/MP3 player …. this is a Swiss army knife …..I question the quality of what it can deliver to me ….. all-in-one type of devices are not best suited in an emerging market place – it just dilutes their value prop. Potentially other handset vendors could replace Garmin as a navigation device. Everyone starts to copy everyone else’s features and functionality …..arms race to out do others …..

There are three questions here –

1. Is market really looking for a Swiss army knife type of device for these particular jobs? I don’t think people are clamoring to have mobile TV in their navigational device. There is definitely value in having hands free calling capabilities within a nav device. Not many people have really used the mp3 functionality in the existing nav devices. There is value in Radio/FM. I highly question the need of a photo viewer in this device.

2. Is this the right move for Garmin in particular? I personally think this will dilute their core value prop. Traditional handset vendors will flood Garmin’s vertical, a.k.a Nokia/Navtec followed by everyone else. Garmin and Nokia are trying to enter each other’s markets as a defensive strategy, end up doing feature arms race commoditizing their core products.

3. What else could they do to keep their value prop? Focus on additional other value add services within the nav vertical and provide a superior nav experience. Make it so hard for other traditional handset vendors to compete in the nav market – sort off become the iPod of mp3 market. No matter what Microsoft, Samsung and Sony offered, they couldn’t touch iPod market share. Garmin could do the same even if Nokia and the likes try to enter the nav market.

Here is another example of why companies should focus on the context in which their users use their products rather their technological capabilities ….

Apple did not include camera in their iPod even though technologically they could. Its been 5 years and many version of iPods, including iTouch doesn’t support a camera. Where as first version of iPhone comes with a camera. While people “hire” iPod for music and audio needs, they could potential take photos with the same device when there is a context for it, but “typically” one takes pictures/photos when you are in groups of two or more and most of the time people are using their digital cameras or camera phones. You also take photos when you are traveling but when you travel you also carry a digital camera with you. People carry their digital camera photos on their iPod by side loading. Providing iPod users with photo loading capabilities didn’t increase the cost of delivery for Apple and some users do make use of this functionality although that is the not the primary reason for them to carry their iPod. When the integration of camera feature into iPod does not significantly increase the cost of iPod, user would be ok with that feature. Since mobile cell phone users are already using camera functionality, it was critical for iPhone to enter the market with that feature.

iPod commands the highest premium in the mp3 player market even after 5 years of entering this market and the only reason they are able to do is by providing a superior product that is highly focused in delivering what it is hired to do.

In the evolution of a product or technology, one-size-fits-all type of products make sense only when the technology is completely mature. When the technology and markets are still emerging, one-size-fits-all doesn’t really provide a superior user experience. From a usability standpoint, creating undifferentiated products and doing arms race to add every possible technological feature to your product will lead companies towards a dangerous collision course and ultimately usher commoditization.

If one looks at user’s subjective value, a user would not want to pay for features they are not hiring that product to delivery. This triggers brand disloyalty. Worse, will make way for new entrants who could potential steal your unsatisfied customer base. Microsoft and its products are an example of this where they have so many features that majority of their users do not even use but end up paying for it since there is no other option. It is only a matter of time when new entrants will go after these unsatisfied and non-consumers.

So, when companies want to add features or functionality that do not fit the exact context or circumstance of usage, it is critical that companies do not penalize/charge the user for getting those unwanted features – from a cost and user experience standpoint.

For example, buying a Swiss army knife saves me space and number of devices to buy or carry. The drawback is only one person in my family can use it at a time. I am not in need of ALL the features Swiss Army Knife provides me. The screwdriver, knife and bottle opener do not work as efficiently as the respective standalone devices. Now, I have Swiss Army Knife as well as all the other standalone tools. So much for reducing space and carrying just one device …..

Note: Some of the inspiration came from Harvard Research, James Gibson’s seminal work on Visual Perception and Anthony Ulwick’s papers and articles.

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