Sometimes less is really more

While staying at a hotel recently, a friend of mine discovered the iron in his room had a built-in torch.

It is possible a significant number of people like ironing in the dark. But it seems more likely the manufacturer, faced with flagging sales, decided to throw the kitchen sink at the product.

On paper this might make sense. If you compare two similar products, and one has more features than the other, it can be tempting to buy the one with extra functions.

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But in reality, adding extra features often comes at the expense of performance and usability. Whether it is a printer which doubles as a scanner, or an all-in-one food processor, all too often you end up with something that does nothing very well.

When choosing which hi-fi to buy as a teenager, I remember my Dad offering some wise advice: “The more features they have, the more there is to go wrong.”

I did not listen, of course, and sure enough my twin cassette deck with Dolby B started randomly auto-reversing when high-speed dubbing. Ahem.

There are examples when product convergence works well. The most obvious is the Swiss Army knife. The iPhone is another. Someone recently shared a photo of all the devices the iPhone has made obsolete laid out on a table. It was a big table.

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The iPhone is the exception that proves the rule because while it does many things, each has been carefully considered and works more-or-less seamlessly.

In the words of the late Steve Jobs, everything “just works,” as parents with toddlers who can intuitively use an iPhone can verify.

This does not just apply to products. I remember a fast food outlet in Lancaster with a menu that ranged from kebabs and burgers to pizza and hot dogs. The shop was open all day, every day, and it seemed to have very few customers. It closed eventually and a fish and chip shop took its place with limited lunchtime and early evening opening times and a very focused menu. Every time I pass by there is a queue outside. I am certain they generate much greater revenue than their predecessor. Sometimes less really is more.

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