People want quality experiences, they don't want features. Sure they'll tell you they want features. They'll compare features, they'll make feature charts and checklists but when it comes right down to it it's about the product experience. I'll get to the iPhone in a minute but let's first start with the iPod.
Apple certainly wasn't the first to create a music player, or a portable digital music player but they did nail the experience. From getting the music from your CD to your computer to the device the process was fairly smooth and low friction. The mobile experience focused on listening to the music, not making playlists, not tagging, or sharing, or anything else. The killer app was having all your music with you.
The ability to focus on the core experience and remove all the junk is incredibly hard. It's so tempting to get feature centric. It's so tempting to itemize all the things that it could do and then go build all of those features. The ability to focus on the experience is what can set you apart.
I was in home depot looking for appliances a few weeks back and it seems that appliances are less and less about cooking. Each appliance has been consumed with buttons, dials, settings, preferences and options. It's so easy and so cheap to add a feature like a timer and a clock that every device is doing it. The experience of using each of these devices gets incrementally more and more difficult. The stove, microwave, refrigorator all had clocks and timers.
People are looking for the revolutionary feature, and in many cases the revolution is to remove features not add them.
The iPhone is a great example of designing for the experience and not the feature list. Many technology critics will complain about the features (EDGE, no GPS, no keyboard, no MMS, etc.) But what they forget is that the experience on most cell phones, even the ones that have all these features, is just making phone calls and perhaps sending a few text messages. Having lots of features is great but having those features work well takes a lot more time. Many companies short-cut and compromise the overall experience to get more features into the product.
Creating a user experience vision allowed Apple to focus on three core iPhone features. Music, Internet, Phone. The fact that the device doesn't do many other things is seen as a flaw by some but the fact that it does those three things well will help it outsell many other more feature rich devices.
As technology invades our lives products will hit a feature limit. This limit is the point where each added feature provides little to no end-customer benefit. As this limit is approached companies will need to focus on creating experience, not just lots of features. If they don't someone else will.
This is great news for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about User Experience and Usability because more and more products will be built with the person in mind instead of the feature chart.