The Problem That Product Managers Have With “New”

by drjim on February 29, 2016

Product managers know that new brings a lot of problems

Product managers know that new brings a lot of problems

Image Credit: Joe Mud

When you take a look at your product, what do you think about it? Are you sad that your product is not a shiny new product? Do you wish that you were in charge of managing a cutting edge product that was just bursting on the market? I’m pretty sure that at one time or another, we’ve all felt this way. However, this is most definitely a case where we should all be very careful about what we are wishing for. A good example of the challenges that come along with managing a new product were recently demonstrated by the folks over at Apple.

The Problems With A New Watch

As we all know, Apple is a very successful company. They make a great deal of money from selling iPhones and iPads. However, nothing can last forever and so they realize that they need to create new products in order to keep the sales momentum going. Their solution to this problem was to create a new product called the Apple Watch.

This product was clearly a new product and came with all of the challenges that a new product has. In the early product design stages, the Apple product managers realized that they had a real challenge on their hands. This revolutionary new product had to have a reason for existing. Initially the Apple product managers decided that the Apple Watch had to have a health focus. It would monitor the wearer’s health: blood pressure, heart activity, and stress levels. However, in the end none of these features made into the final product.

The reason that they were not included was for several different reasons. A number of them did not work reliably. Some just simply turned out to be too complex to include in the Apple Watch. Finally, others would probably have caught the eye of the part of the government that likes to regulate medical devices. What all of this meant is that the Apple product managers were left come up with a reason that people would buy their new product.

Why New Is Such A Challenge For Product Managers

“New” is both exciting and terrifying. It’s great because it will cause potential customers to sit up and take notice of your product without too much effort on your part. It’s terrifying because it’s not 100% clear just exactly what you should be doing – nobody has ever done this before!

This is exactly the challenge that the Apple product managers are facing. It appears as though the answer that they have selected to this challenge is to attempt to make the Apple Watch be just a little bit of everything. The Apple Watch is a fashion accessory, it provides small bits of information without requiring you to have to get your iPhone out of your pocket, and it allows you to purchase things using Apple Pay.

This is going to be a risky strategy. The problem with anything that is “new” is that there is always the possibility that your potential customers will not be able to understand why they would want to buy it. The Apple Watch is not a sure win for Apple. In order to operate correctly it will have to be close to an iPhone . The challenge here is that the Apple Watch won’t be doing anything that the iPhone can’t already do. It will also be opening a new world that exists somewhere between the disposable world of consumer electronics and the longer lived world of high fashion. This is a brave new world indeed!

What All Of This Means For You

New is always better than old, right? Well, perhaps not always in the world of product managers. I think that we are all attracted by new things – they pose both a challenge and an exciting opportunity for us. However, as the product managers over at Apple have found out, sometimes the world of new can be a very scary place to be.

In the first part of 2015, Apple introduced a new product called the Apple iWatch. This product was designed to work in conjunction with the iPhone and the iPad. However, since it was a new product that nobody had ever seen before, the Apple product managers needed to make sure that they clearly communicated the value of this new product to its potential customers. They had originally planned on making the Apple Watch a healthcare device, but they had to abandon these plans. Now they are trying to make it appeal to many different categories.

Will the Apple Watch be a success over time? We’ll have to see. I suspect that a specific use for this product will be discovered by the product’s early adopters and this will quickly be seized on by the product managers. The Apple product managers can only hope that their product goes from “new” to “successful” as quickly as possible!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What feature of the Apple Watch do you think that the Apple product managers should have focused on?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

What dream do all of us product managers have? Perhaps it’s that our product will be a monster hit – everyone will want to have it and once they get it they spend all of their waking hours using it. If that is your dream, then the product managers over at the Swedish firm, King Digital Entertainment, are currently living it.

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