Many companies that I have come in contact with say that they work with the customers in focus. I have also often heard that companies consider themselves to understand their customers and therefore also develop products that suit the customers. But what exactly do customers want? Even very large and successful companies sometimes make mistakes and launch products the company think customers should like, but which turn out to be real flops. There are also products that have not been so successful initially but have gained success by being launched in a new version many years later.
It is not just about having a good product idea but also about having the right timing. Bad timing could mean that a technology is not mature enough to base products on, or that people are not mature enough to absorb a novelty yet. Some products that have been launched in recent years are not really completely new, instead similar products have been launched many years ago. Products that did not achieve the same success as today’s products.
Three examples of failed products that have got successful modern successors are:
- Apple TimeBand
As early as 1991, Apple published a concept with a small computer that should be worn on the arm like a wristwatch. The product was called Apple TimeBand. This concept is very similar to the Apple Watch that was launched in April 2015. Apple TimeBand was never launched on the market but stayed at the concept stage, but several prototypes were developed. Apple Watch is thus not Apple’s first attempt to develop a computer / phone in the form of a wristwatch.
- Non-smoking cigarettes
In 1988, the tobacco company R. J. Reynolds launched a smoke-free cigarette. However, customers did not like the taste of the smoke-free cigarettes and rumors were also spread that the cigarettes could be used to smoke crack cocaine. This meant that the cigarettes never had a major impact on the market.
Today, e-cigarettes have been introduced to the market and have had a relatively large impact. In Denmark, for example, 17% of all people over the age of 15 are reported to have tried e-cigarettes and 2% use e-cigarettes daily.
- Apple Newton
A handheld computer that could be held in one hand and had many successors was Apple Newton, which was launched in 1993. Apple Newton had a built-in recognition of handwritten characters, which meant that the user could write characters on the screen with a pen and the characters were then interpreted and converted to regular computer letters on the screen. However, Apple Newton had a high price, character recognition problems and was criticized for being clumsy. The character recognition was also mocked by several comedians on TV. In 1998, Apple stopped selling Newton.
However, the story did not end there, Apple’s Newton got many followers in the form of e.g., Palm in the late 1990s and iPhone and iPad are conceptually similar to Apple Newton.
The above products were developed by large and successful companies, but the products were still not successful. The companies had certainly spent a lot of money researching and understanding what could be viable in the market, but still the products did not work in the market.
Sometimes it is not enough for companies to know their customers and the market. Sometimes it is required that companies try to launch something new on the market to find out if it works, without knowing for sure. To reduce the risk in such cases, a new product can be launched to a limited extent initially to test if it really works in the market.