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Start With A Narrow Focus

Want To Create A Breakout Product? Start With A Narrow Focus

One thing we’ve learned from Apple over the years: Roll out a limited product and expand it later.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January 2007, he famously described it as being a combination of just three things. “It’s a widescreen iPod, a revolutionary phone, and a breakthrough Internet communicator.” Though every journalist and Apple enthusiast in the audience (myself included) was won over by Jobs’s masterful presentation, by the time we stepped into the light of day, glaring holes were evident in the iPhone. Why didn’t it have 3G data? Where was real support for corporate email? And why couldn’t you write real applications for it?

On closer examination, it seemed Apple had blundered in its product strategy. Most famously, CBS MarketWatch’s John Dvorak claimed that Apple should cancel the iPhone before it shipped even one unit. How could a device with this many missing pieces ever succeed?

We know the rest of the iPhone story. Over the next four years, Apple has systematically added every single feature that it left out of the original iPhone while moving more than 100 million units. This slow and steady rollout of new features has been so successful that few remember that the App Store, now a central piece of the iPhone’s appeal and marketing campaigns, was not included in the original product.

Launch with a focused product, then extend it.
When launching a new technology, it’s far better to constrain the capabilities of your big new idea–even if it’s an artificial constraint–than it is to over-promise and under-deliver. Being selective about features at the outset does not rule out later functionality or prospective customers.

The original iPhone was a very limited product–it only did three things. But it was built on top of iOS, a technology platform whose potential is still just beginning to be realized. Big platforms grow from little, focused products. Even if the geeks of the world think otherwise.

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