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Four Rules Of Portable Multitasking

Forrester Research has advice for mobile service product marketers -- device-makers interested in producing a multifunction portable device should heed the following lessons:

No. 1. Don't obfuscate the core function of the device. Learn from the mistakes of the iPod photo -- focus on your device's primary function and market additional capabilities to consumers who are already sold on the core purpose. Although the iPod retained its photo-viewing capability, the return to the simpler iPod name restores the device to its true intention: music.

No. 2. Only add functions that don't detract from the core application. Although they don't detract from voice functions, camera phones -- with their low resolution, hard-to-focus lenses, and small screens -- won't replace consumers' standalone digital cameras. But there are distinct times when consumers will opt for their camera phone: when they want to quickly share a photo with friends (26 percent) or when it's the only camera they have with them (37 percent).

No. 3. Price multitasking devices based on primary markets. Smartphones -- those handy devices that allow consumers to combine a portable voice device with productivity functions -- appeal to a wide range of consumer segments. Audiovox's SMT 5600 might appeal to a more mainstream voice consumer who desires a richer mobile experience enabled by a familiar Windows OS. However, Palm's Treo 650 -- with its QWERTY keyboard and proprietary Palm software -- appeals to businesspeople who wish to be constantly in touch via email and SMS. These devices are priced accordingly: The SMT 5600 targets the average consumer at $150; the Treo goes for the business market, priced at $299 and up.

No. 4. Watch users carefully. In his book Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel cites that depending on industry, 10 percent to 40 percent of customers modify products for their own use. Keeping a close eye on the habits of these "lead users" is critical to innovating quickly and avoiding the risk of multifunction overload. One interesting example is the iPod shuffle. After seeing that lead users of the iPod were using the shuffle feature with great regularity, Apple decided to actually strip down features to better serve these users at a lower price point. This is a great example of consumer-driven innovation -- going against the multifunction device tide -- with great success, by keeping a close eye on users.

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