What is a feature?

For a long time in the tech industry, the term “feature” has been used in a limited way, in my opinion, causing it to mislead people. Of course, software and hardware makers like it this way.

Even with a feature as simple as “track skip”, we can be fooled. Both product A and B list it as a feature, so you remove that feature from your comparison and move on to the next feature. Check, check, check. After discovering that both have all the same features by the reckoning of the feature matrix, you are down to price, and pick product B since it’s cheaper. With everything else being “equal”, you “wisely” choose the cheaper one. Except, product B is terrible. The build quality is worse, the ergonomics of the controls are terrible, and it is really hard to use the “track skip” feature that you thought was equivalent.

It turns out that what we have been calling features are really just simple items on a specs sheet, and they say very little about quality or user experience. We do this because it’s easier to regurgitate the speeds and capacities of the device components rather than to come up with a metric to compare the complex combination. For geeks, it’s often just about one-upping other geeks with a particular new feature while secretly suffering with usability.

Here’s an example from Rick Munarriz writing for The Motley Fool:

We know that next year’s shiny new iPhone will be better. It will feature a new design, be more powerful, and likely come with several features already found in Android phones, including 4G LTE connectivity and NFC chips for mobile transactions.

Yes, there are already phones with “4G LTE”, but it is known that, currently, the chipsets are larger and drain a battery very quickly making for a larger phone to house a larger battery as well as the larger chipset. My point is that when Apple puts LTE in the iPhone, the “feature” will be “LTE with a good user experience” which means good battery life without bulkiness. The attitude of the Android fans seems to be a “first post” one here. First, yes, but not a very great post.

Almost all the time, any new technology will not be well refined at first, so the user experience will be poor. The problem with many tech gadgets is that before the once-new feature matures to have a good user experience, the temptation to replace it with the next new one with a poor user experience is too great, and so they never have a refined product.