Best technology is often the looser

Once again I find that the best technology doesn’t always prevail. In the mid-1970s Sony launched the Betamax video format into the consumer marketplace and the “Videotape Wars” began; in spite of the superior quality of the video recordings made with the Betamax format, VHS prevailed and won the battle.

There have been many similar examples of products performing up-to and beyond competing products and still failing to win a significant market share. Such is the case of Windows Phone; I have been a Windows Phone user for quite a few years, all the way up until this last week when I finally jumped to the “Dark Side” and purchased a Google Pixel phone with its Android operating system. Windows phone is/was a great product, the almost seamless integration with the Windows desktop and tablet ecosystem reflected a well conceived and designed system. In the latest version of Windows Phone (Windows 10) that ecosystem-wide integration is outstanding. So, why did it fail so badly to win a significant market share? The answer, as in all previous technology/product wars is simple … marketing, the art of creating desire for one product over another through brand recognition in the phone case. Apple did a superb job of creating a hip, vibrant image for their products. Google took another approach, ensuring that phone manufacturers had easy access to Android and allowing them the freedom to create products that reflected the phone companies image. Meanwhile, Microsoft had a weak, often confusing marketing approach that just didn’t win the hearts and minds of the phone manufacturers or the consumer.

So, what does this have to do with embedded systems and software? It is a cautionary tale, just because you have the best product in its category, or even establish a new, potentially exciting category, it will only succeed if people know about it. Technology and performance short-falls do not appear to be a gating factor in new product successes. Promotion is a significant factor in a product’s success.

Next time you have that brilliant idea bear this in mind. Identify the demographic of your potential customers and prepare to market to them. Plus, in this age of social media, live streaming, podcasts, and blogs it is valuable to establish a reputation, one that may be transferred to your eventual product release.