Rythie's Blog

Technology and stuff

The ‘good Enough’ Threshold

The term ‘good enough’ tends to be associated with lazy people justifying work that is sub-standard. However, when applied to products, it’s a powerful concept which decides when someone will switch from one type of product to a radically different one.

I should note that I have recently re-read the Innovators Dilemma, which inspired this post, you should read that if you haven’t already.

Let’s take the example of smartphones and their disruption of laptops and other computers. The main advantage of a smartphone is that is portable and mostly has data available everywhere. I had various phones before I eventually bought an iPhone 4, most of them were not good enough to read email let alone browse the web. My Nokia n96 (a top of the range phone at the time) for example would often take an entire 15 minute bus journey to catch up with email, by which time you had arrived and had another way to check email. At other times, I had tried to use the web browser on the n96 and it was so slow and rendering was so poor that it was easier and quicker to go home and check something using my computer than use the phone. This was a phone that was clearly not ‘good enough’ to challenge a laptop in either email or web.

My iPhone 4 however is the complete opposite. It’s actually quicker to check email using an iPhone than it is to turn on my computer and start an email program and same is true of many web browsing use cases. In fact, like most people, I find I use my iPhone (or iPad) at home in preference to my computers even when they are in easy reach.

So what is happening here? My computer has much faster CPU, more memory, a much bigger screen and vastly more storage space than the iPhone, but I’d rather use the phone? At a certain point I didn’t need more CPU or memory, in fact I already have too much of these and I’ve mostly got those things because they are so cheap, it’s crazy not to have them. In fact, I was just waiting for something in the phone form factor to be ‘good enough’ for me to switch much of my usage. In business meetings people are ‘getting by’ with iPhones and iPads because they are ‘good enough’ for 90% of their uses and means they don’t have to lug a big laptop around.

This disruption is why I think Intel is so interested in the ultrabook concept, because they have virtually no products in the phone/tablet market and they need to at least make notebooks viable again.

Disruptive products are all around, they usually have an compelling feature, but are poorer performers in other aspects, compared to the product they disrupt. People start using them when they get ‘good enough’ at that task. Some examples:

It’s often said that the best camera, is the one you have with you, the smartphone is that camera and now has ‘good enough’ image quality for most uses. The ‘always have it with you’ is a compelling advantage in addition to the ability to instantly upload to social networks.

The failure of SACD indicated that standard CDs were already ‘good enough’ and in fact, with the switch to MP3 players, people voted with their feet to say that MP3’s inferior quality sound was ‘good enough’ to replace CD, given the portability gained. Lossless high definition music has been viable for years, though there seems to very little demand for this, even now.

‘Good enough’ even happens in software, for example I am using Google docs to prepare this post, years ago it became good enough to replace OpenOffice for most of my uses and I use it in preference, due to the ability to pick up my documents wherever I am. Google docs didn’t need have to out-do traditional office packages for me to switch, it merely had to be ‘good enough’ combined with the key advantage of the different form factor (available everywhere - nothing to install).

Designers of disruptive, ‘good enough’ products have the advantage that they know what parts of the original product you value and which you don’t.

What products do you use now that are ‘good enough’ already?