An Interface Approach to Innovation

When we release a product, we often want to talk about its power and versatility. Truth is, nobody else wants to hear about that. They want to know – in as simple a manner as possible – why something should matter to them.

I agree with this point of view.   However, my initial reaction was that the takeaway was you needed a simple (single-use) device to have it successfully adopted.  And, while I believe that wasn’t the aim of the article, I do want to talk a bit about that faulty assumption.

I think we’re not technologically constrained to a single-use device mantra for success.  And many other people agree with this (people who criticize the Kindle, the iPhone without a camera, etc).  However — the quote above applies — and is the downfall of the do-everything device.  Here’s the paradox.  I think we need do-everything devices, but they need to be task-oriented.

The key to this is to think of interfaces.  What is the purpose of an interface?  Let’s think about a reading interface.  The ideal reading interface has good enough resolution to display very dense tables/graphics, generates very little eye strain,  is large enough to provide enough words that  line breaks don’t become cumbersome, and allows for simple/fast/intuitive navigation (scrolling, page flipping, etc).  As an interface then, the Kindle suffices.

However, one missing piece is the form of the interface.  A paperback book as a reading interface is portable, light, small, durable, very long use, exchangeable/sharable, and usable without restriction (think airplanes and electronic restrictions).  Here the Kindle only provides portability and lightness.

Another missing piece is the content.  What information is exchanged/displayed in an interface?  Where the Kindle breaks down is the limiting format of the content.  While it’s very easy for me to get books, it’s harder to get other “printed” or text into the device.  Further, the content only lives on the device — I can’t sell or transfer the content — or utilize in a format outside of the Kindle.

So form and function live in the domain of the interface — while content and format live separately.  It reminds me of the whole HTML form/content debate.  Web 2.0 and beyond are all predicated on this separation.  Devices, especially mobile interfaces, are still up against this (mobile phone vs carrier, e-readers, streaming video content).  Without a content “standard” how can there be true innovation?  Interfaces, as versatile as they might be technologically, are constrained by the content formats they have access to.

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