Want a Competitive Advantage? Focus on UX and Software

Want a Competitive Advantage? Focus on UX and Software

By Mark Hatch

You just shipped your impressive new product, built on the latest System on a Chip (SOC) from XYZ Microsystems. You chose this SOC because it decreased your parts count and reduced your manufacturing bill of materials. And with its fast CPU, this SOC powers your product to process four times as many samples as your earlier devices.

Your C-suite is ecstatic. Your sales team is over the moon, convinced it’s going to wipe out the competition.

Fast forward six months. Senior management is thrilled by your progress as manufacturing hums along at top efficiency. But you’re so laser-focused that you don’t notice the storm clouds gathering, and are caught off guard when the rain comes one seemingly routine Monday morning. 

You’re sipping your second cup of Breakfast Roast when you read online that your chief competitor has just announced its latest product — which looks and works remarkably similar to yours, but costs half the price.

Your heart skips a beat. You spill your coffee.

How did this happen?

You tell yourself, “Our product is sealed. We don’t sell to competitors. Surely, none of our customers would buy our product just to give to our competitor, knowing they’d likely disassemble it to see how it works.”

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news — don’t shoot the messenger and all — but that’s precisely what happened. In fact, it happens all the time. Companies looking to reverse engineer simply borrow an item — in this case, your innovative, new product — from one of your customers, scan it in an industrial-sized MRI or CT system, and return it within 24 hours.

(I’ve seen these industrial MRI systems in the wild. During a tour of one Silicon Valley firm, my guide quickly justified the machine’s use, stating that it was only for non-destructive testing. He repeatedly stressed that the MRI was not used for reverse engineering. But, as the Bard wrote, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”)

Within a week of borrowing your new product, your competitor was able to uncover your secrets — not only what SOC you used, but exactly how your product is put together. With this information, they raced to develop their own knock-off version while you tended to production, completely unaware.

Your competitor went with a faster, newer-generation SOC (you made your selection a year ago when you started this project, right?); made a few minor improvements based on insight gleaned from testing your system (not everything is patentable); gave their existing control software a cursory facelift; and wrote the press release that shook your world. 

Yes, your rival probably has to wait another 3-6 months before they can ship. But, in the interim they’ve frozen your sales. It doesn’t hurt them because you were already taking market share, so the delay in revenue while buyers wait for their less-expensive model doesn’t impact their earnings. Yours? Well, that’s another story.

Pretty scary, right? Gone are the days when hardware selection and industrial design were the best competitive differentiators. Today, hardware can be quickly reverse engineered with minimal effort. And with the advent of flexible manufacturing systems, industrial designs can be rapidly improved and deployed. 

So, how do you compete?

Apple figured out an effective solution long ago: combine an exceptional user experience (UX) with well-built, high-performing software and make them fundamental to your brand. 

This is powerful differentiation for which customers are likely willing to pay a premium. Don’t believe me? Think about Apple and Android. Android’s OS now provides similar (many say greater) functionality to Apple’s. But Android couldn't clone the Apple experience — and it is largely this experience, and the expectation that the brand delivers a certain level of excellence and innovation, that compels customers to choose Apple. (How do you think Apple commands nearly $1,000 for an iPhone when essentially the same functionality is offered from countless less-expensive brands.)

Put simply, you can’t MRI a piece of software and you can’t copy your competitor’s UX without ending up in court.

This is the reason why driving product development with UX design makes sense. Here’s what’s involved: develop an effortless, intuitive UX that your customers love. Then expand on it with reliable software that efficiently performs the critical functions of your device. And make sure it integrates into the rest of your customer’s workflow. 

It’s straightforward. But, not easy. 

That’s why we created GreenHouse by ICS, an exciting new way to develop embedded touch devices.

By eliminating much of the complexity associated with product development, GreenHouse delivers better, quicker, more cost-effective results than traditional product development methods. It allows projects to go from concept to working prototype in record time — and this early working prototype allows for market testing and stakeholder feedback. Plus, the prototype is no throwaway; it evolves into a finished product. 

If you’re looking for meaningful long-term differentiation from your competition, including software that can’t be reverse engineered and a user experience that can’t be plagiarized, GreenHouse can help you get there. 

Learn more about GreenHouse and driving embedded-product development with UX by downloading our webinar on-demand.