Uh-huh. You heard me right. In product design, often: Less is more. Let’s look at a segment of the mobile tech industry to see why less choice is more choice…

The reason why less choice is more choice in the land of product design and technology is that it’s easier for an industry to quickly develop around less choice and support it.

Where can you see this phenomenon alive and well? Try mobile phone cases.

Think about the problem with Android devices (disclosure: I use a Galaxy S3 right now, but also have a host of Apple products):

Just in Samsung’s smartphone business alone – looking at their landing page – there are 24 models. Heck, just the Galaxy S3 has a few different versions to cater for different geographies. This means radically different sizes and shapes. Whilst this sounds awesome (Choice is great, right?) – the effect is that it’s very difficult to make accessories for the Android segment. Not only that, but every year the form factor changes – getting slimmer, wider, bigger etc.

On the other hand, let’s consider Apple iPhone. The iPhone 3G and 3GS shared the same form factor with no variations for different markets and geographies. The same goes for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s. This means that for 2 years at a time, all that the case manufacturers need to do is produce the same size case with very little modification for one product. (yes the iPhone 4 and 4S had a minor change in the positioning of the lock slider).

This means that they don’t have to retool their production line for every new model – or more importantly, each year deal with 10-24 different products, each which iterate year after year. It’s impossible to keep up with the variation unless you’re Samsung itself (except their line of accessories is really boring).

Just in Time production

Just in time production and print on demand have changed the industry

Just in Time production and Print-on-Demand

The world has moved to smaller stockholdings and just-in-time production as well as print-on-demand to cut costs and streamline cashflows. This makes huge sense vs keeping months of stock on the shelf.

The premise is really simple: Have the basics on hand that can be assembled quickly in a different matrix. For t-shirt production, this means that rather than keeping tons of printed stock on the shelf in set sizes, you could have a print-on-demand machine and either tees on the shelf or a just-in-time supplier like American Apparel. Wow! No cash stuck on the shelf for months. Yes, it’s more expensive per unit, but now you can offer huge variety and not have your cash stuck in potentially dead stock for months at a time. Once you see which items and in which sizes are moving fast, you can always move to cheaper bulk stock in those categories.

The same can be applied to case manufacturing. There are great lean and profitable companies today that only produce for Apple products. Why?

Because it’s one product a year.

Sometimes the form factor changes after a year or two, but the scale of economies make sense. Tooling and setup is always the most expensive part of the exercise. This is why less choice is more choice for the industry. The industry ecosystem gets to create one or two tools that can create a product which can be micro-customised.

For example: The basic case can be produced for the iPhone5 and an ink application machine can create any design you want on it. The manufacturer can even allow you to upload your image to let you make a one-of-a-kind printed iPhone case. All they need to do is keep blank iPhone cases ready to print.

This is the core issue with Samsung – it has too many variations of each model within the year. It’s not easy for the case manufacturers to offer that level of micro-customisation to the client as they would have to make too many tools and keep too many varieties of the case.

Sure, the per-case cost of not mass producing is more – but cashflow is king and not having tons of stock on the shelf means you’re liquid, nimble and can offer more variety.

Take a look at the tiniest sliver of selection of iPhone cases here from one manufacturer :

iPhone case choices due to standardisation

Micro-customisation creates choice

This is why you’re swamped for choice on Apple accessories as opposed to Android. There’s this HUGE amount of choice in Android manufacturers and handsets – which is great, but none of them have the feeling that they are super attractive consumer products that deserve amazing accessory lines and the constant form factor changes and variety makes it very difficult to find standardisation for the accessory market.

THIS is why less choice is more choice in many cases.

WHAT SHOULD SAMSUNG LEARN FROM THIS AND HOW SHOULD THEY REACT?

Simple: They can either

1. Subsidise the tools or some of the manufacturing in return for a small cut of the profits (pretty smart!)

2. Get rid of most of the form factors and settle on a few (max)

3. Create a range of accessories and cases that tie their mobile offering more into their consumer division range

WHY?

1. …Because this would create more loyalty with a few select manufacturers interested in a HUGE market niche. It would also create an new revenue line for themselves that would be scaled by select partners who would become more invested in pushing these products in partnership.

2. Unlikely, but would streamline the process significantly

3. This one makes tons of sense for me and does not preclude them from launching plan 1 at a later stage as well. Samsung still suffers from their products being seen in an unholistic fashion. Apple is seen across the board as a consumer product. The market perception is that Samsung has consumer products and mobile phones. It’s a segment they’re desperately trying to tie together, but they don’t have the seamless back-to-back fit that Apple gives.

By making more docked devices and cases for their devices, they will be able to blur the lines between consumer culture products and their other product ranges. They’re all too… separate. They also don’t share a unified look and feel. That hurts bigtime.

They’re the only manufacturer:

1. vertical enough

2. positioned well enough

3. with a heavy marketing culture and deep enough marketing budgets

to pull this off.

So will they? Hard to say. Samsung need to move from a massive corporate bureaucratic-beast model to a more nimble model like Apple did when Steve Jobs came back and even moreso when Tim Cook came on board. This would release their entrenchment in stock and allow them to move to a more nimble model that needs to respect standardisation more. If they do that, they will respect standardisation in design more across their product range.

The problem they face is one of MINDSET.

Samsung needs to stop looking at their business any longer as a bunch of separate divisions, but rather as a comprehensive range of consumer products that look like they came from a competent consumer design house. Apple gets this – even down to keeping one P&L for the entire business so that when one division cannibalises another division’s revenue – it’s all good. It’s an end-to-end solution. Samsung could be the OPEN end-to-end solution based on Windows and Android, but built to work best with itself. They will also need to work on the build and perceived quality of their products need to become aspirational. Plastic won’t cut it.

OK – so we started with: Product design: why less choice is more choice – and ended up with looking at Samsung’s business model. Talk about a tangent! Ultimately, it’s  a road to discuss how too many options can also kill and industry trying to support that brand.

So when you’re thinking of launching a product – learn from these examples:

1. Create a focused product range.

2. Partner early where possible as it will drive you to understand how to expand to support your partners best

3. Keep your design mindset holistic.

4. Cater for less stockholding and a nimble business model which can iterate fast.

5. Focus on seamless UX/UI by bringing in external consultants to work on the project. The UX on the handsets is not as slick as Apple’s way of combining mobile, TV, PC, Tablet, Cameras etc.

Samsung needs to take a hard look at their raging success and not see it as a glass ceiling. This should be their opportunity to roll their sleeves up and really dig into Apple’s marketshare on a consumer goods model. Learn from Apple. Take the best from their historical successes. Samsung are already heading in that way by making their products interoperable. Realising this vision will ensure that they realise why less choice is more choice for the consumer. Keep it tight, neat and seamless.

Eran Eyal
Eran Eyal
Eran is the founder and CEO of Passo and StartupHat, Springleap, Evly (acquired), iDea (acquired), eSquared (acquired).

4 Comments

  1. eraneyal says:

    Thinking deeper about the Samsung issues the other thing they need to do is open dedicated flagship stores that scream: “PREMIUM QUALITY PRODUCT”.

    A series of amazing stores where their customers value is recognised and lends aspirational elements and qualities to the brand.

    They need to own a space from ideation to physical location experiences.

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