Interesting article about software design methodology: design for one or two typical users, don't try to satisfy all users.
It makes sense to me it's a better to make one user happy than discontent everyone.
The trick I suppose is to correctly profile this one typical user.
I think it does apply to any product, not only software.
I wonder how Apple do identify THE user and what is their typical user's profile (called 'persona' in the article linked above). I ask that because I like so much some of their product I feel like they were designed for me alone :-)
Although I like technology It very rarely translates into an acquisition: I still don't have a portable media player.
It's only when I need it enough and like it a lot both inside and outside and feel like it was made for me that I may consider a purchase action (that can take weeks or months).
One of the Nokia E-series smart-phone is about to land in the purchase action and the Nintendo Wii has left the parkway for the runway, but I don't how long is the flight :-)
The other interesting thing is there seems to be a relationship between money earned by product sold and a user's satisfaction.
It might sound like stating the obvious but not to all company seem to get it.
Apple and Nintendo are making huge amount of money for each product they sell compared to their respective competitor (Sony loses money for each console sold, PC market is sluggish with a industry's growth far below Apple's)
I bet they are a lot of users of Apple and Nintendo who feel like their acquisition was designed for them. It makes them happy and make them in better disposition to invest more into the product (service and software, new versions).
(an interesting comparative read is the "after the honeymoon" reviews for the Wii and for the PS3 at Ars Technica: guess which one of the review feels more positive and transpire reviewer's happiness at using the product?)
Typically when designing for a subset of the users population, you'll reach a smaller number of people.
I think that's called a niche market, but who cares as long as both side of the transaction are happy: Product maker earns money (typically the margin are higher) and the user (notice, I didn't say consumer) is happy, a perfect virtuous circle.
Now that's obviously not true for the iPod whose market share cannot really be called a niche.
I think, in addition of an excellent user profiling, I suspect there is the fashion effect. At least here in the UK, I'm sure most people who buy an iPod do so because it's fashionable, not because they studied what media players are available and selected the iPod because it's the ONE (by the way, this is how I bought my first mac in 1996, after months of study of what's in offer by the computer industry at that time).
That said, some of them will find the iPod is not what they wanted, while other will really like it and makes them happy of their purchase. They will explore the possibly of iTunes (software) , buy more songs on iTunes Store (service) and possibly look into other Apple products: the Halo effect.
Transforming a normally niche (i.e: small market share, high margin) product into a mass-consumption product is probably the dream of any company.
Apple has now made it, Nintendo's got the idea and works on it and Nokia made it long time ago.
Just too busy milking as many as possible uninformed or misinformed consumers (notice, I didn't say users) 'till the last drop while trying to destroy each other.
I'm not saying the mentioned brands don't do that, I'm saying that's it's not their main focus and they don't get carried away by the necessity of a capitalist world.
Disclaimer: I've mentioned Apple, Nintendo and Nokia because they made products that I'm happy with, I fully understand that people can be happy with product from other make, we are all different after all :-)
It just turns out that, in my opinion, these three are coincidentally particularly good at designing product with specific profile of user in mind, which explains why they excel in their niche(s).
One last message to gadget makers:
If you are desperate to get me buy your product, read my mind (but don't listen to me) and design it just for ME, then may be I will.