Monday, November 17, 2008

Small is beautiful

Back in the seventies the expression 'Small is Beautiful' was on everyone’s lips. The phrase was the title of a book by British economist E. F. Schumacher. I’m betting that this was the phrase that rang in Steve Jobs’ ears when he was thinking about where to go with the iPhone. I’m talking about iPhone apps, of course; those funny, helpful, entertaining and must-have applications you can download from iTunes.

If you know anyone with an iPhone, and that seems to be just about everyone, you will have been shown how the beautifully designed screen can double up as a spirit level, a glassful of milk, a block of knock-on-wood, a device that recognizes songs and makes them available for download, and so on and on. All this is wonderful in its own way and jump starts conversations anywhere, but the really astonishing thing about these Apple apps is that they are so cheap and that they generate so much revenue. Many of them are free, some can be downloaded for a couple of dollars and big ticket purchases, like a dictionary or encyclopedia, are around the price of a paperback.

'Small is Beautiful' indeed. By making iPhone apps fun and easy purchases, Apple has opened up a new market for people who want to spend small and get big results. The results for Apple have been sensational. The numbers keep heading north, but the last time I heard we’re talking about more than 100 million downloads from the iPhone App Store. As for revenue, we’re talking $30 million a month, and counting.

The iTunes store had already pointed the way to a 'Small is Beautiful' world with its option to download that single song you love rather than having to buy a whole album. Watch 'Small is Beautiful' change the way people package and market over the next five years. Also start thinking about how the reintroduction of this idea, thanks to the digital age, can help us put a lighter footprint on our planet.


Piotr Jakubowski said...

Not only is the iPhone a great example of "Small is Beautiful", but of the direction convergence is taking us. Years ago a cellphone was carried on the shoulder, then came the smaller bricks. Soon we were texting, checking email. And now? Videos. Photos. Music. Pretty soon these things will be portable shavers.

One thing left to ponder is - just how small is acceptable? Books can't get any smaller because we can't read them, just as phones can't get any smaller because we can't use them. I've read about certain people having trouble typing on the already large iPhone screen because their fingers are too big. Though "small is beautiful" - we are only really limited by our physical selves.

Sophee McPhee said...

Imagine this, though: a phone the size of a microchip, which can be placed on your ear drum, send messages directly into your ear and project personalised holograms in front of you (for visual communications e.g. photos, conference calls and emails) as you’re going about your day to day business. Mobiles can always get smaller. In fact, one day, they won’t even need to exist – well, at least not in a tangible sense. One day, mobile phone technology will be reduced to light and sound (waves, atoms, particles etc.).

Kevin Roberts said...

I’m with Sophee on this - all major advances in technology and creativity seem unthinkable until they actually take place. With great design and understanding of their users, there’s no limits to how small products can become.