People will talk about the cool factor, the sleek design, the speed of the computer processor, how many pixels the camera has, the connectivity and more. They're all valid reasons why these products (and a lot of what Google is doing with Android or what Amazon is doing with Kindle) have the exponential growth and economic engines that are making every other business jealous of them. I would argue that it's something else: these corporate designers have figured out something that other technology and consumer electronic goods companies still struggle with: Apple, Google and Amazon have done an amazing job of removing the technology from their technology.
Simple is as simple does.
If you want to make an anti-Apple fan roll their eyes and sigh ungratefully, just say to them, "it just works." This was the Steve Jobs catchphrase, and while it's not always accurate and can be questioned at any moment in time, at a macro level, it's spot on. But more than just working, Apple, Google and Amazon work extremely hard at stripping everything away to make their experience as human and intuitive as possible. No, we're not just talking about better user experience design, we're actually talking about removing as much technology as possible, so that what you deliver is an extension of how we behave and interact as people.
It's the hardest thing to do.
You can't throw a theory of relativity out there without hitting an Albert Einstein quote on "simplicity" and just how complex it can all be. As I stood watching the line-up for the iPhone 5 today in a shopping mall, I tried to analyze the people willing to stand there and wait on a Saturday for a smartphone that they could have ordered online, and had it delivered to their work or office in short order. What do these people all have in common? They're all not all power users. They're all not Apple fanboys/fangirls. They all love how great technology is really about the removal of technology.
It's almost sensual.
That was the cautionary message that Sherry Turkle delivered at the last TED conference in Long Beach last year (you can watch the video here: Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?). We touch, stroke and tickle our iPhones in a very sexual way. Don't believe me? Just watch someone at a cafe and how they manipulate their iPhone (or Android) as they sit alone waiting for a friend. The devices are much more than tools of communications. They are our companions. Dennis Crowley of Foursquare was recently featured in a TV ad for Best Buy where he boasts that his smartphone is the only thing that he'll go back home to get if he forgets it. Who amongst us would not agree with that. I've had friends forget things like their wallet, money or passport without worrying about going home to get it, but their smartphones? Forget about it.
Does your technology remove the technology.
Brands love to encumber a situation. They love to make things more complicated than what they need to be. I'm not sure why, but they do. Do you? Take a look at the Google homepage and then take a look at your web experience. Notice anything? Take a look at the Twitter mobile application, then take a look at your mobile experience. Notice anything? When you get to the office on Monday, before you do anything, grab a notepad and pen and start making a list of the things you could do - today... right now - to remove the clunkiness of technology from your customer experience.
Remember: if you're not making technology that removes the technology from your experience, either your competitors will... or a smart startup will.