Feature-Rich or Just Plain Useless?


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As I write this column, many of my friends are rushing to preorder the iPhone 5 (and by the time this issue publishes, they will no doubt be enjoying a bigger screen and a better Siri--at least for the first week or so). While they were all salivating over the latest and greatest from Apple, I went down to my local wireless store in the middle of the afternoon, walked up to a sales associate, and promptly asked for the 99 cent iPhone 4. Yes, you read that correctly. I did not even bother to fork over the $99 for the 4S.

Why? Well, first and foremost, I am not a "gadget person." If you saw what passes for a television in my house, you would be aghast. And until yesterday, I'd been muddling through life with an iPhone 3G that had lines running across the screen and could barely run Angry Birds. I'd been putting up with its quirks for the past year or so out of sheer stubbornness. I have a love-hate relationship with smartphones, but when it started taking me longer to type an address into the GPS than it did to drive to my destination, it was time to just give up and go get a new phone.

As luck would have it, Apple made the decision easy for me by lowering the prices on its older models. But you're still probably wondering why I didn't just fork over the $99 and get the 4S. Here's the truth: I don't like paying for features I won't use. It's a pet peeve of mine, and no amount of media hype will convince me that I need something that I just plain don't.

I have never been one to try to keep up with the Joneses.

I used to live in a fancy apartment building where we were charged more for rent because of all the amenities in the building--a gym, a communal space for parties, a pool, a concierge, etc. I never used the party space, and I think I used each of the other perks maybe once in the year I lived there. I would have much preferred opting out of having a right to any of those amenities and paying less in rent. That wasn't an option and I needed a place to live, so month after month, my roommates and I wrote out our checks and sighed. I left that apartment many years ago, but my distaste for unnecessary features has continued to keep me from overspending.

When all my friends upgraded to the 4S, they were gaga over Siri ... for about a week. Then they never used it again. A voice-controlled novelty didn't seem worth $99 to me. One of my friends suggested that I would not get the new Apple maps app with the iOS 6 update (which turned out not to be true), but I've survived this long with Google Maps. I think I can make it through another few years. And then there's Waze--a social traffic and gas app-which comes highly recommended by friends and is free.

Of course, the lines outside of Apple stores suggest that I am in the minority. Most people want shiny new toys with all the bells and whistles. And when it comes to the business of content, adding value through features is one of the best ways to monetize your content. But how do you know what actually adds value--and will entice people to pay for your content--and what's just a silly add-on?

Well, the most important part of creating feature-rich, truly valuable content is to know your user. It seems simple, but it's true. In the age of information overload, one of the most valuable services content companies can provide is curation. Making sure your users get the information that they need and want is far more valuable than adding on extraneous features to useless content that, in the end, don't deliver anything consumers really need.

Consumers want the information they need, on the device of their choosing. These are the basic needs that all content providers should address. Most added value will come by enhancing these capabilities--by making this basic user experience more enjoyable. It sounds simpler than it really is. The truth is many companies struggle with this most basic tenet of the content business.

You'll read plenty of articles telling you that you "need" to get on board with the newest trend, whether it's as complicated as voice or as simple as social integration. But before you rush out to add these features or new accessories, be sure they meet your users' basic needs.