What to do when a failed product concept still lingers, haunting every attempt at injecting it with new life? That's the problem with interactive TV, a term that grates like the name of an old girlfriend, conjuring up hopes long since unfulfilled yet still surprisingly fresh. Gratefully, it’s time to put old product notions of interactive TV behind us because this week Microsoft will release a user experience update to the Xbox 360 that will do for the TV what decades of promises and industry joint ventures have never managed to pull off.
Meet engaged TV. From now on, I will no longer need to plead with the audiences I address, the clients I meet, or my friends who still listen to me to imagine the future of TV. Because Microsoft has just built and delivered it: A single box that ties together all the content you want, made easily accessible through a universal, natural, voice-directed search. This is now the benchmark against which all other living-room initiatives should be compared, from cable or satellite set top boxes to Apple’s widely rumored TV to the 3.0 version of Google TV that Google will have to start programming as soon as they see this. With more than 57 million people worldwide already sitting on a box that’s about to be upgraded for free – and with what I estimate to be 15 million Kinect cameras in some of those homes – Microsoft has not only built the right experience, it has ensured that it will spread quickly and with devastating effect.
Forrester is bullish on Windows 8 as a product for consumers. With Windows 8, Microsoft is adapting Windows in key ways that make it better suited to compete in the post-PC era, including a touch-first UI, an app marketplace, and the ability to run natively on SoC/ARM processors. This pivot in product strategy and product design makes sense as we move deeper into an era when computing form factors reach far beyond traditional desktops and laptops.
But in a new report, Sarah Rotman Epps and I look at Windows 8 tablets, specifically, through our product strategy lens. What do we see? On tablets, Windows 8 is going to be very late to the party. Product strategists often look to be “fast followers” in their product markets. Perhaps the most famous example is the original browser war of the 1990s: Microsoft’s fast-following Internet Explorer drove incumbent Netscape out of the market altogether.
For tablets, though, Windows really isn’t a fast follower. Rather it’s (at best) a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP’s now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. While Windows’ product strategists can learn from these products, other players have come a long way in executing and refining their products — Apple, Samsung, and others have already launched second-generation products and will likely be into their third generation by the time Windows 8 launches.
Or will someone else do it for you? That's the principal question I have after seeing the first week's worth of responses to our Digital Disruption Readiness Assessment survey. This 5-minute survey (available at forr.com/digitalreadiness) is already revealing critical vulnerabilities in corporate readiness. Consider the following data point:
It's not that people think their industries are safe from digital disruption -- quite the contrary. A full 76% see "significant opportunity" for digital to disrupt the industry they serve. Yet only a third think their companies will put the right resources in place to adapt to the changes that digital will bring.
I spoke at a private conference outside of San Francisco on Tuesday and shared our digital disruption research with the room, elaborating on the Lose It! case study I posted on Mashable last week. Afterward, several entrepreneurs spoke to me about their own experiences as digital disruptors. One of them -- who self-identified as a Gen Yer who had recently received $15 million in funding for his startup -- explained to me that the cost of disrupting has fallen so low that he doesn't even think people like him need to go for the big funding anymore (not that he refused it when it came!). He said, "Especially in software, it only takes $30,000 to build anything in software today."
That's a digital disruptor. He's not bound by traditional economics, old-school partnership boundaries, or even antiquated notions of customer privacy. How are you going to compete with someone who thinks -- and acts -- like that?
Yesterday I took the main stage at our 2011 Consumer Forum here in Chicago to introduce the 500+ members of the audience to digital disruptors. You can read about the guts of my presentation in my blog post and learn more about the effect of digital disruptors in "Beware the Digital Disruptors," my Mashable piece from earlier this week.
But what I really want you to do is participate in our Digital Disruption Readiness Assessment. It's found at forr.com/digitalreadiness and takes just five minutes to complete. We launched it yesterday as part of my speech, and many thanks to the hundreds of you who have already hit the survey (even those of you who just checked out the first page and didn't proceed; I want you back). The results are already fascinating and will only get better as we get more of you to participate, so please pass this along to your friends and let's collect enough data that I can share more nuggets as they come through. Here's a teaser:
You're very optimistic: 43% think it's very likely that "My company will be a top provider of its goods and services in five years." Yet only 21% of you think it's very likely that "My company will be more innovative than other firms in our industry or category over the next five years." Red flag: How will your company lead in products if it doesn't lead in innovation?
In our assessment, we ask you to evaluate your industry, your company, and your individual readiness for (or vulnerability to) digital disruption. And here's the real kicker: When we get to the level of the individual, the answers are sure to trigger empathy.
All through the past decade, observers in industry and on Wall Street have offered reasons to discount Netflix’s efforts. Supposed obstacles ranged from Blockbuster to scant streaming options to recent rate hikes on DVD renters. When will these people ever learn? We understand why people cheer against disruptive players like Netflix — it would be nice if we could pretend all these digital disruptions will go away. But they won’t, and neither will Netflix. We’ve written about this in our latest report that people who keep an eye on content strategy will find valuable (see our newest report on Netflix).
But it’s not really written for them – it’s written for people who take an even bigger view, as do we. These people – today’s product strategists – know that Netflix is a powerful example of disruptive digital product strategy and are eager to learn how to act like Netflix in their own context and industry. In our report, we extract three specific lessons from Netflix:
Control the product experience. The company that controls the user’s total product experience will win, whether retailer, producer, distributor, or platform. That company will have ultimate control over what options people have, what prices they pay, and what value they believe they are getting. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one that people charged with product strategy must be willing to accept. Makers of products as wide-ranging as sleeping pills, running shoes, and auto insurance should all follow Netflix’s lead and control the total product experience they deliver.
We live in a world punctuated by big innovations. From fire and the wheel down to the light bulb and the iPad, we mark the march of history by the steady beat of transformative innovations. Except that steady beat is no longer so steady. The rate at which these life-altering innovations are coming to market is accelerating so quickly that it's no longer sufficient to invoke even Moore's Law to explain them.
Not only are new things being introduced more swiftly than before but consumers are adopting them more rapidly than before. I make my living studying early adopters, but recently I've had to throw many hard-earned lessons out the window. Because in a world where Microsoft sold 8 million Kinect cameras for the Xbox 360 in just two months, traditional definitions of "early adopter" became irrelevant after about week two.
This is both exciting and maddening. We've spent that last several years watching the acceleration of innovation to figure out what is making this rate of innovation possible and we've discovered that innovating at this pace is tricky, but doable, with the right approach.