I know it’s still the middle of winter (well, not really in San Diego), but I thought I’d start my Spring cleaning a bit early this year. The one thing I’d really like to donate to charity this year is that feature all engineers know and loathe — the marketing tick-box. Three words that make every developer shudder.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, a marketing tick-box is a feature deemed important for a product only because all your competitors are doing it, regardless of whether the feature brings value to the product or its end user. And your competitors feel the same way when they see you up the ante in the tick-box war. It’s sort of like a self-licking ice cream cone in that sense.
Having spent significant parts of my career in both Marketing and Engineering, I have acquired a unique perspective on this issue. Here are some of the highlights observed in over a decade of mobile multimedia software development.
MIDI polyphony: A few years back, everyone was pushing for 128-poly MIDI, even though the human ear struggles to discern beyond 32.
Impact: Increased Bill of Materials (BOM) cost to find HW that could support this, or fewer application processor MIPS if done in software.
Video telephony: My all time favorite. Have you ever seen anyone make a video call on a mobile in the real world? Neither have I.
Impact: Across the industry, probably thousands of man-years of development effort and additional multimedia complexity.
Ridiculously large camera sensors: Never mind the fact that the laws of physics dictate a maximum picture quality of around 3-5 Megapixels with existing lens technology in the desired smartphone form factor (thin).
Impact: Higher BOM costs for the bigger sensors, more memory bandwidth being used to process the larger images, larger file sizes with no appreciable increase in picture quality, massive files unnecessarily gobbling up storage.
Voice Dialing: The jury is once again out on this one, since server-based systems seem to be doing a much better job of handling this, but the terminal-based solutions never caught on.
FM Radio: Do I really need a radio on my phone? Certainly not for music…
I’d love to hear about your experiences with suggestions for marketing tick-boxes…