Technology has reached a critical point in the adoption curve. My wife, who is imminently practical and intolerant of anything that smacks of gadgetry, is becoming intrigued by my iPhone. I can't overstate the importance of this in terms of watershed moments. Steve Jobs, if you can get my wife to buy into your vision, you have crossed the chasm.
There's something important to note here in attitudes towards technology that we digerati, gathered together on the leading edge of the bell curve, often forget. Technology only becomes important to most people when it lets them do something they care about. For my wife, my gleeful demonstrations of the wonder that is Shazam gained nothing but a prolonged rolling of the eyes. Twitter clients and Facebook apps? Puh-leeze! Redlaser elicited a brief spark of interest, but this quickly passed when she saw the steps she had to take to do any virtual shopping. Even the wonders of the cosmos, conveniently mapped by pUniverse, did not pass the Jill acid test. As long as my app inventory didn't improve her life in any appreciable way, she remained resolutely unimpressed.
But lately, there have been cracks in the wall of technology defense she has carefully constructed since marrying me. A nifty little app called Mousewait was the first chink. Knowing the wait times in the ride lines on a recent trip to Disneyland was something she cared about. Suddenly, she was asking me to take out the iPhone and check to see how many minutes we'd have to wait at Splash Mountain. Yelp helped us find a reasonable family restaurant in San Diego. And Taxi Magic allowed us to quickly hail a cab in San Francisco.
But the moment I knew the defenses were ready to crumble was when she recently turned to me and said: "So, you can do all that stuff on an iPhone? What other things can you do?"
Aahhh... the door was open, but only a crack. If I've learned one thing in 21 years of marriage, I've learned to tread slowly when these opportunities present themselves. I had to carefully craft my response. Too much enthusiasm shown at this point could be fatal...
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"On the iPhone... what could you do with it?"
"What could I do with it, or what could you do with it?
"Me... let's say."
And here we come to the crux of the matter. I'm extremely tolerant of technology. I'll struggle my way through an interface and put up with crappy design simply so I can emerge victorious on the top of the early adopter heap, holding my iPhone proudly aloft. At the first inkling of frustration, my wife will turf the thing into the nearest trashcan. If you functionality is what you're looking for, app designers have to provide the shortest possible path from A to B.
If you really want to scale the opportunity that lies at the Jill Hotchkiss inflection point, what you have to do is start providing seamless functionality for app to app. The new iPhone OS is edging down this path by supporting multitasking, but there is still a long way to go before you'll make my wife truly happy. And that, believe me, is a goal worthy of pursuit.