In August 1981, the first personal computer went on sale – 23 years and 3GHz later the novelty has finally worn off. All of a sudden, IT is no longer fresh and exciting, but just another part of everyday life…
There has been an almost invisible trend over the past year in the IT industry. Information Technology, once viewed as new, exciting, and cutting-edge, is rapidly becoming just another commodity item, like a car or washing machine.
IT is no longer regarded as even particularly interesting. Rather, it is viewed as a commonplace tool that is expected to do exactly what it says on the can. The excuses for IT failures are drying up, and users are no longer prepared to put up with systems that do not work, lack functionality, or are slow.
As in other commoditized consumer electronics sectors, design and looks are now often regarded as more important than functionality. The most obvious example is Apple, which has stormed into the consumer market with its hugely successful iPod, a slim device with distinctive white headphones that fits easily into a pocket. However, there are similar devices on the market that have longer battery life and more storage, but are not as desirable.
And then there is the mobile phone market. In the early days a lot of people bought Nokia phones because they combined reasonable functionality and robust performance with good looks. But we all know that good looks fade with time, and according to recent analyst predictions, Nokia has seen its market share fall to something approaching 30% from 35% last year.
Nokia’s dramatic decline can be pinned on a number of factors, but most especially on its failure to realize that mobile phones have become a fashion item where styles change significantly over time and from place to place. Users are prepared (to a certain extent) to overlook various technical shortcomings of a device if it looks good, but Nokia failed to pick up on the fashion for clamshell devices, especially in Asia.
UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph recently reviewed Apple’s new iMac G5. What was remarkable about the review was the fact that the G5 was treated as a fashion accessory, with its design and looks making up most of the article, at the end of which was a tiny section dealing with the technical details of the unit.
Of course, it is relatively easy for a company such as Apple to make its offerings look good because it mostly sells physical devices that potential buyers can touch and see. This raises an interesting dilemma for today’s IT marketing managers: how on earth do you make ERP look sexy?