Several years ago IDC presented a segmentation model for mobile device users that included a cluster called “minimalists.” Minimalists routinely use technology-based products for home and work, but want products without complexity or unnecessary features. Minimalists want a phone to be a phone — not a camera, game console or FM radio. They want a computer to start up in seconds flat, run without viruses or user-account-control interruptions. They don’t want to have to read the owner’s manual before driving a new car off the dealer’s lot.
Product developers suffering from “feature-itis” and minimalists are poles apart in what they value. Anyone who has upgraded across multiple generations of software has probably fallen victim to “bloatware,” the usual consequence of a developer team that suffers from “feature-itis.” Because it’s expensive to explore what customers really want, or would really use, in any meaningful way, it’s so much simpler for product teams to engage in feature wars with their arch rivals. Hence, bloatware.
Minimalists — A Neglected Opportunity?
From my POV as a consumer, it’s clear that most technology brands have chosen to overlook the opportunity represented by “minimalists” as potential customers. When I refer to “technology brands,” I’m not just thinking of the computer or Internet sectors, but also consumer electronics, home appliances, cars, etc.
As I recall, minimalists (as revealed by IDC’s research) tend to be older adults, probably leading-edge Boomers, affluent, well educated, often in the empty-nest phase of life. More than a few have second homes, have money to spend on travel and leisure activities. And yes, they buy and use multiple categories of technology products, from microwaves to mobile phones, computers, and home entertainment devices.
But when a minimalist goes shopping, she is likely to be confronted by a morass of confusingly named products, with little apparent differentiation, and way too many unnecessary features. This challenge occurs in many product categories, including home appliances, but is all too prevalent in technology brands.
Worst of all, you have to pay for those unwanted features that are bundled into the product. Have you ever tried to negotiate with a car dealer to drop the price based on all the features that you didn’t want in the car? I tried, and got only a laugh.
My most recent experience has been trying to buy a cell phone for my husband. He wants a phone with superlative voice quality, long battery life, large backlit keys, clamshell form factor — and no camera, FM radio, email/IM/SMS or other messaging features. He uses a BlackJack for work, and in his personal life, wants a simple phone to bring along when he hikes, bikes or kayaks. Oh, and a price below $100. Needless to say, this is not the kind of device that today’s leading wireless carriers want to promote. Back I go to craigslist…