How to Build a Popular Mobile Device

On iPhone launch day, it is appropriate to give some thought to what makes a mobile device successful in the mainstream market. As much as we techies — enthusiasts if you will — like to think we affect how popular a mobile device might be, that is not reality. The market that determines if a gadget is going to be a big seller is the mainstream market. The average person on the street rarely pays attention to the technical aspects of a device, and they are the only consumers that have numbers significant enough to make a product a success. These are the consumers that companies better have in their sights for products, and new products better be produced with them in mind.

What factors must a company give the most attention to make a successful mobile device? Form is one of the most important, as it is often what creates the first impression a consumer forms of a gadget. The first impression is critically important for any product, and especially so for a mobile device. Some of the most successful gadgets have reached success due to an attractive form. Take the Motorola (s mot) Razr phone; this phone was in function like most of the competition, but its thin, sexy form had mass appeal that led to long running success in the market.

As vital as form is for a new product, the product must serve an identifiable purpose that is easy to operate. Enthusiasts get wrapped up in the technical aspects of a new product, but regular customers don’t care about them. A gadget must do something the consumer already does, and do it easily so he/she can simply pick up the device and do those functions. Give your new product the “hand it over” test — hand it to a regular consumer and watch how easily they start using it without instruction. If consumers cannot start doing things right away, you have a problem. Users must be able to instantly see value without explanation, because your PR/technical people are not going to be around at the critical purchase decision time.

Do your homework. Properly determine what consumers spend almost all of their time doing with your product, then make that experience bullet-proof. This gets back to that first impression thing. There’s nothing wrong with putting extra capability into a gadget that will only be used occasionally. Just make sure the core functions that regular people do with products like yours work perfectly, and easily. This sounds easy, but in reality many companies fail to correctly identify the core functions most users will perform. Take your time and get this right. You only have to look as far as that company in Cupertino to see results of getting this homework right.

Once form and core functionality have been nailed down, get the message out to consumers. This means mass market advertising, but do it effectively. Remember the creepy lady selling the Palm (s palm) Pre in those TV commercials? Don’t do that, it told the potential buyer nothing about how the gadget would fit in their life. Show them how your whiz-bang device will easily make a difference in everyday life. Take a cue from those “hand it over” tests I mentioned, and demonstrate that in your ads. You did do those tests, didn’t you?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): To Win In the Mobile Market, Focus On Consumers