In technology, a feature of a piece of software is affectionately called a “killer feature” if it is one which is important enough to users to cause them to early-adopt or to leave behind their current process, system or application in favor of a new one.
In other words, nobody was looking for new email software at the time that Gmail was first released. Nobody realized that they needed anything better than what they were already getting with Yahoo Mail, or their ISP’s mail, or some desktop mail client like Outlook or Eudora. But Gmail offered the killer feature of allowing you to store more mail than anyone ever thought possible – if I remember, the original release allowed you to store 1GB. A typical ISP at the time was probably offering about 20MB, about 2% of Gmail’s offering. It was enough to make you drool, and wonder about all the possibilities if you had access to that much space, in the same way that the original iPod revolutionized the way people thought about their underutilized CD collection sitting in the corner of their bedroom.
That drooling was enough to convince people that it was worth the switch to Gmail, even though it meant leaving old email and address books behind. Well, not really, because Google in its genius also made it pretty easy for almost anyone to bring along their old stuff with them, by releasing a whole suite of tools to:
- Configure Gmail to automatically check your old POP3 email box and pull over NEW mail.
- Configure Gmail to send new mail out, appearing to come from your old address.
- Import an old address book (if you could first dump it to a .csv file).
- And I think they may have initially provided some way to import your OLD mail, but this was not very easy for most users – it was more of a techie tool.
But the killer features as far as getting users to migrate were the ones that allowed you to pull over new mail automatically and “spoof” your old address when sending out new mail – because those features left you having to justify to yourself why NOT to migrate to Gmail. After all, everything could just continue working as normal, except now I would have a gigabyte!
That’s just an example. Google has implemented many killer features over the last decade, and so have many other technology companies.
Going forward, I believe there are three killer features that will help any new software product or service to succeed. Each of these has already been implemented to some extent by someone, but what I think we need to start moving toward is “universality.” These features should become so common that they no longer differentiate and stand out as killer features. Users should just come to expect these features, all the time, in every system they use.
That’s what I think. 🙂
Access to Your Data, Photos, Videos, Documents, Email… Everywhere
There has definitely been a lot of progress in this area in the last few years, but there are gaps which are too significant to ignore much longer. All the big technology and web vendors offer some way to get your stuff from “the cloud.” But your “personal profile” is a lot more comprehensive – it includes far more than just your isolated folders or documents. If you are familiar with using the Windows operating system on a corporate network, you may have seen “roaming profiles.” This is what we need on the Internet. And the profile should be able to span vendors, avoiding lock-in with a particular vendor for a particular type of your personal data.
Automatic Updates of Software, Features, and Security
I don’t want to think about software updates anymore, and I am quite tired with waiting to see when some of the bigger software vendors (i.e., Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec) are going to innovate and release a new feature for an existing product.
“Modern” software vendors offer automatic updates which are minimally intrusive, don’t require reboots, and add nice new features to the applications as soon as they are developed and tested, rather than requiring you to wait until the next yearly cycle of a commercial release.
Of the bigger and old-time software vendors, the only one I know which offers new features in between major releases is Intuit, with their Quicken series. I spend a lot of money to keep my Quicken software up-to-date… I think it is fair to expect innovation and bug fixes between major releases, if they are available for deployment.
Hide the Technical Details from the Users
Do users care what a megabyte is? How about a gigabyte? True, I went on and on about the virtues of Gmail’s gigabyte of storage space earlier, but really – users do not care how much space a file takes to store. They only care whether they have enough space for the file they want to store.
But everywhere we look, users are confronted with alerts, notifications, dashboards, and pop-up messages telling them about IP addresses, functions, backups, imports, scripts, cookies, memory, drivers, megabytes, and file types. None of these are really important to the work and fun that users are trying to accomplish. I look forward to the day when we finally keep all these wizards behind their respective curtains. Special-use devices like the iPad come close, but there is still a lot of improvement needed.
Your Predictions for 21st Century Consumer Technology?
What about you, what do you think is a killer feature – either one we need or one you just really want? Let us know in the comments.