Division of Animal Behavior

Seven students have been selected to compete in this year’s Marlene Zuk Award for Best Student Presentation. Our judging panel, composed of the DAB executive committee, Program Officer-elect Kathleen…


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What job was the iPhone really built to do?

Examining the iPhone through the lenses of Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to be Done Theory

We hire products to do a job. If you are a product manager and that statement seemed matter of fact or cliched; if that statement did not just make you reexamine your product, you need to hear it from Clayton Christensen as he retells the story of the McDonald’s milkshake.

For those of you who’d probably like to view the video later on, the story goes something like this. McDonald’s was trying to increase the sales of its milkshakes. After having several rounds of feedback from people they profiled as the quintessential milk-shake buyers; and after incorporating all of their feedback into the milkshake, they still did not see any significant uptake in sales. Until Clay’s team went about observing the behavior of the milkshake buyer. The team noticed that almost all of the milkshakes were sold before 8:30AM, were bought by people coming alone (as opposed to in a group), were always “To-Go” and were bought alone, as in just a milkshake and nothing else. As the team probed further, they realized that the reason these people were buying milkshake was because they had a long drive to work. During that long drive they needed something to engage themselves (something for their left hand while the right hand was on the steering). The competition to the milkshake was not the usual suspects like ice tea or soda but instead a banana, a bagel, doughnuts & even a chocolate bar. The job of the milkshake was to last long enough for the drive, be filling enough so that it lasts until the next food break and be convenient enough that it doesn’t soil hands or clothes.

The thing with theories is that they help you understand often repeated yet unexplained situations. During my time with Yavvy CRM, there were episodes where we would compete against Salesforce.com and lose the deal to them even when we thought the client’s sales-team showed a clear preference for our product. Turned out that in most of those cases, the reason why the CIO selected Salesforce.com was because he/she wanted it on his resume. A Salesforce.com implementation on the resume opened up jobs for more Salesforce.com implementations. Once we realized that the expected job of the CRM in such cases was to enhance job security for the CIO, it helped us focus our efforts better.

We wouldn’t land these clients by comparing features or by being cheaper or by

iPhone was never meant to be a “better” phone. In fact its “phoning” capabilities were more or less identical to feature phones or even smart phones around. My contention is that people hired an iPhone as an effective way to utilize their idle time. They needed something to engage them when they were on a bus ride, when they were waiting for their turn at the dentist’s, when they were waiting in the car. These were usually the times at which they would engage with their smartphone; at least initially.

Did Apple knew that this was the job of the phone? I don’t know the answer but my guess would be a Yes and No. They must have been familiar with the need for recreational devices through their other stellar product — the iPod, which was used a lot during the bus rides and the walks in the park. But iPod was limited because it only offered music as the solution. The reason Apple combined music and internet browsing in the iPhone would have been to enable their end user to do more stuff. However I doubt they would have predicted just how much more stuff these people would do. This is the reason they didn’t launch with an AppStore which came an year later. The AppStore provides the strongest evidence that Apple had figured out what job was people hiring the iPhone for. Some people liked hearing music, other preferred playing a video game, others still liked to read and watch content.

Obviously, the smartphone has now metamorphosed beyond this original job. But, if you were to counter a smartphone, your device would need to start with doing a better job on how to utilize your time during those moments of idleness.

Go on, think about it. Your customer’s hire your product to do what job? And what else do they use to get the same job done? The answers might surprise you.

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