It used to be that a product’s success depended upon how well it differentiated itself on the basis of what it was able to do. In the world of software, that generally meant the more features something had, the better off it was deemed. For the hundreds of features Microsoft Office has, it turns out that the vast majority of customers only used 10% of the total features, leaving 90% to a very small, very long tail of users.
Reductionism took hold in recent years, with Apple’s approach to music players. While competitors took the tack of adding FM tuners, video codec support and other ancillary features, Apple focused on simplicity of operation and music acquisition. The rest is history.
As the software market evolves and integrates social media and mobile expectations, we’re seeing a similar phenomenon where the best apps are those that focus on feature quality rather than feature quantity. One of the hot new apps is Instagr.am, the mobile photo sharing network. Combining funky photo filters (like Hipstamatic) and enabling sharing and discovery, the developers have created an overnight sensation with now over 3 million users in just 6 months. The experience couldn’t be simpler. The bare-bones functionality forces users to get creative in its application, just as Twitter’s 140-character limit encouraged brevity and efficiency. Just as Twitter is known for microblogging current trends, Instagr.am has now become known for photo storytelling. Whereas most photo apps focused on the image transformation aspect, Instagr.am made images look great, made them instantly shareable and made it fast. They never set out to do so, but by focusing on doing a handful of key elements well, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have managed to create not just an app, but an personal experience that defines their brand.