The Real Customer

I enjoyed reading Steve Johnson’s post on who the real customer is over on his Product Marketing blog. I’m not sure if Steve has a Telco background or not, but his comment regarding the person who uses your device being your customer, is spot on for this industry. The  manufacturers who maintain direct contact with their end users tend to be the most successful. There are some who attempt to make their living catering to operator (distributor) wishes like LG and ZTE, but none ever seem to really garner significant mindshare.

Let’s review those that do.


I think we all know this story already. They are the poster child for making operators look like “dumb pipes”. Having completely flanked operators with their retail stores, music and app business, and line of personal devices, they’ve been able over the years to develop strong ties with their consumers. Globally, they’ve never been market share leaders, but those they served were passionate users. Their message rarely has been distorted by middle-men. What is the result? Operators bending over backwards to access that user base, breaking their internal rules and giving up revenue streams.


For years has been the de-facto choice for business users, offering services that other manufacturers either avoided or refused to compete on. So while they are struggling now, they built their success around “Crackberry” addicts. Operators couldn’t help but stock their products for fear of user revolts at their enterprise accounts. Even in the midst of their current troubles, the press and consumers still follow them without fail.


Obviously this story has not finished, but they do seem to be gaining traction at a rapid pace. Whether they continue to do that is still up for debate, however, their recent success is built once again on having a dedicated user base dependent on services that were not developed on the operator level. A “semi-open”approach  versus the walled gardens that operators are famous for have served them well recently.


I hesitate to put them here due to their recent issues with delivering a compelling smartphone. However, they still command close to 40% of the global market. And in markets with less operator control, Nokia is still the standard. Their broad portfolio, targeted to multiple income levels and consumer segments, still has them as a force to be recognized. While not obvious in the US, there are still Nokia fanatics in plenty of other countries.

Manufacturer success is never guaranteed, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that devotion to end-users will be any less successful in the future. It’s sad to think how many operators consider themselves the most important person in the value chain. Obviously they have their own roadmaps to manage, but more often than not, it appears as though they forget who they actually while frustrating their manufacturing partners in the process.

Product Managers Need Skills

While short, the Accidental PM’s post on 3 Skills That Most Product Managers Are Missing is spot on the mark. Two of these areas hit home, so I consider this a must read for new Product Managers.

The first was communication. I completely agree with the author that this is far more than just giving a speech here or there about your product. Communication for a PM is about dialogue and informing. While the post covers the former, I’d like to add a little to the latter. A PM must understand who his or her stakeholders are at all times.  They should be the hub that connect all groups, but more importantly, should proactively inform the right key stakeholders with relevant information. I can’t emphasize the importance of this, especially in preventing issues from popping up late in the development process.

Secondly, make friends whenever possible. As a long-term expat, I’ve let some relationships wither on the vine because of distance or time zone issues. Some of these relationships could have been extremely valuable had I continued to develop them. Instead, I let myself take “control” of things under the impression that no one was there to help. As such, I almost burnt myself out. Had I just reached out, I probably could have saved myself a lot of stress. So my advices is to take the time, even if it’s a little inconvenient, to keep your contacts fresh. You never know when you’ll need them.

Reading Now: iPhone Human Interface Guidelines

I don’t know about you, but I still have that dream of creating the mobile app that allows me to retire. I know it has the same odds as a lottery ticket, but let me dream…

So while doing a search on user-interface guidelines  for mobile applications, I discovered Apple has a 150 page document explaining their approach to iOS. Considering they are the perceived leader of easy-to-use applications, it’s probably worth a few hours of time. As such, I’m now reading iPhone Human Interface Guidelines.

It’s possible I may be consuming more indirect Apple propaganda, but I did glance at a similar document from Microsoft. As soon as I saw them write “stick to standards”, I couldn’t stop laughing and moved on. But anyway, if anyone has any suggestions on user-interface design around small applications, please let me know.

Apple Hello! Nokia Good-Bye!

Wow, two of the world’s most important manufacturer’s of mobile phones and services made their own set of announcements today. It should be interesting to see what each of them had to say.

Let’s start with Apple.

Apple Introduces New iPod touch

Apple today announced the new iPod touch, packed with incredible new features including Apple’s stunning Retina display, FaceTime video calling, HD video recording, Apple’s A4 chip, 3-axis gyro, iOS 4.1, and Game Center — all combined in the thinnest and lightest iPod touch ever. The new iPod touch features up to 40 hours of music playback and seven hours of video playback on a single battery charge.

Apple Reinvents iPod nano with Multi-Touch

iPod nano has been completely redesigned with Multi-Touch, which lets you navigate your music collection by simply tapping or swiping a finger on the display. Nearly half the size and weight of the previous generation, the new iPod nano features a polished aluminum and glass enclosure with a built-in clip, making it instantly wearable.

Apple Unveils New iPod shuffle

The redesigned iPod shuffle features both clickable buttons and Apple’s innovative VoiceOver technology, enabling you to easily navigate your music and playlists without ever looking at your iPod shuffle. The wearable iPod shuffle has an all-aluminum enclosure with a built-in clip and comes in five brilliant colors — silver, blue, green, orange, and pink.

Apple Introduces iTunes 10 with Ping

iTunes 10 features Ping, a new social network for music that lets you follow your favorite artists and friends to discover what music they’re talking about, listening to, and downloading. With Ping you can post your thoughts and opinions, your favorite albums and songs, and the music you’ve downloaded from iTunes — plus view concert listings and tell your friends which concerts you plan to attend.

Apple Premieres New Apple TV

The new Apple TV offers the simplest way to watch your favorite HD movies and TV shows on your HD TV for the breakthrough price of just $99. With Apple TV, you can choose from the largest online selection of HD movies to rent, including first-run movies for just $4.99, and the largest online selection of HD TV show episodes to rent — from ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel, and BBC America — for just 99 cents.

Wow, that was pretty impressive. It wasn’t revolutionary in any regard, but they definitely brought a lot of new updates to the table. I can’t wait to see what Nokia had to announce today.

Oh wait, it looks like they sent me an email with an announcement:

Dear Ovi Files user,

Nokia is discontinuing the Ovi Files service, effective October 1, 2010.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Please make sure to uninstall the Ovi Files Connector installed on your personal computer. To do this, execute the standard Windows or Macintosh uninstall procedure that came with your computer. You will not lose any files as a result of this service discontinuation. Ovi Files simply creates an ‘online mirror’ of the files saved on your Windows PC or Mac, so your original files will remain intact. The files on your computer are always treated as the master version, even if some are selected as ‘Anytime Files.’

You will still be able to share content between your phone and PC using another Nokia product, Nokia Ovi Suite. With Nokia Ovi Suite installed on your PC, you can do the following: sync your contacts and messages; transfer videos, photos, and music; back up your Nokia and update your device software. Please note that this is not a direct substitute for Ovi Files as Nokia Ovi Suite requires a wired connection between your PC and mobile device. For more information visit

Again, we are sorry for the inconvenience and hope that you will continue to enjoy our most popular services:

Maps Find your way with free navigation, downloadable maps and easy location sharing.

Store Browse a wide selection of mobile apps, games, ringtones and more.

Music Download albums and individual tracks, share playlists with friends, and much more. »

Thanks Nokia, I will TOTALLY use your existing services knowing that you may discontinue them at any point in the near future. Also, knowing the fact that whatever service I use from you may cause extra work for me (uninstalling) gives me a big, warm fuzzy. I sure am glad I signed up for DropBox instead of Ovi Files, it looks as thought it’s saving me a lot of trouble.

Great Engineers Versus Product Managers

Who is the new Product Manager?

I’m enjoying the question “If my startup has great engineers and designers, why do I need product managers?” over at Quora. I’ve added my own response, but would encourage anyone reading this with knowledge of the field to also add their thoughts.

My answer basically hinges on one key question:

Should great engineers and designers focus on their functional areas or spend time with responsibilities that might detract from their core value-add?

I’ve heard variations of the original Quora question over the years. It’s a valid question that is by no means cut and dry. Many times,  it comes from people who don’t fully understand the product management function. They view the PM as the expected visionary for the product roadmap, but miss out on the other roles they play. Therefore, if their engineer or designer has a stronger, more coherent vision of a product or service, it becomes difficult to see the value of a product manager.

Don’t get me wrong here, most product managers will want to be considered the product visionary!  However, I fear many managers find PMs with backgrounds that can’t match-up to their engineer’s “greatness” and so dismiss the idea of hiring one. The problem now is that no one is minding the other responsibilities: meeting with customers, supporting the market launch, working with suppliers, and generally being the point-of-contact for anyone with a question. It’s good for  development to be involved with these areas, but it has to be tempered with the good sense to keep your team focused on delivering product.

For those who aren’t familiar with the many hats product managers can take on, take a look at Pragmatic Marketing Framework. While no product manager could possibly handle all these roles, it demonstrates areas where they might be helpful. I would suggest anyone who is debating “product manager or not” take a quick look at this and ask themselves two things:

  1. If needed, do they have anyone covering these roles?
  2. Does anyone in my development team have the cycles to cover them?

If the answer to either of those questions is no, hiring a product manager to help might be worth looking into. Defining the role quickly will be extremely important, especially if there is resistance by an established development team who feels they are losing “control” rather than gaining extra “support” for their mission. Depending on the need, product management can report into development or marketing. As there can be some natural conflict between these two areas, settle this quickly. Putting a product manager into a role that has a nebulous reporting structure and has unclear responsibilities will invite criticism regarding product manager role’s effectiveness. I can’t over-emphasize the need to think this through clearly before bringing anyone in.

Since all parties have the same end-game, the relationship needs to be positioned as one of complements. The introduction of a product manager shouldn’t be a power grab, ESPECIALLY if a talented development team exists already. There are far too many industries who need the deep insight that R&D possesses, wrestling with them only hurts everyone in the long-term. Product managers can be very valuable employees, so spend the time properly defining and communicating the role. As you find the candidate who fills those needs, the return should be immediately obvious.

Note: Regarding the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, I only use them as a reference. I have not attended any of their seminars, so I have no opinion on effectiveness. Their use here is only for ease of reference.  Other product management training approaches exist, but I feel theirs is the easiest to absorb.