The growth of technology has been viewed in numerous lights over the years. Writer Aldous Huxley once said that, “technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” The GfK Roper Reports Worldwide survey of attitudes and behaviours show that this is not the majority view globally, with a third of consumers saying they find technology exciting and they use it as much as they can, while a slightly greater proportion agree that it must be mastered to stay up to date. That said, however, we have seen a growth in the proportion agreeing that if a technology product is not simple to use, they lose interest in it – a five percentage point increase in three years. This phenomenon feeds into our global consumer trend, Streamlined, which is part of the GfK TrendKey framework.
A number of recent product launches and articles suggest that brands and companies – not just in the technology sector – are responding to consumers’ desire for a ‘less is more’ approach. Most eye-catching was the news, reported in the Independent, that the Buckeye Tool Expo in Dalton, Ohio was showcasing specially pared down laptops that could be used by the Amish community, who are only permitted to use such basic, utilitarian technology. While this is a somewhat extreme example, more coverage was afforded Nokia’s new 105 handset, which again has a back-to-basics approach. With no internet access, and suitable for text and calls only, the device costs around US$20 and is claimed will last for 35 days on a single charge. It is aimed in part at consumers in developing markets, but it could also appeal to those everywhere who want a back-up phone for emergencies (it has a built-in torch, after all), or those who just want a basic, no-frills handset.
This drive to offer no-nonsense products also extends to the automotive sector. Dacia, a Romanian marque owned by Renault, has recently been re-introduced to the UK market with a range that includes the cheapest new car on sale – the £5,995 (approx. US$9,000) Sandero Access. This price-leader model does without accoutrements such as a stereo, electric windows or air conditioning, and while the car’s primary appeal is likely to be cost, it certainly also caters to those who crave the simple life.
There are, of course, limits to this drive towards ultra-simplicity – a point that was well made in the context of phones in developing markets by Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed in an article for Marketing Magazine. He points out that for many consumers in markets such as India, their mobile device is the most advanced and versatile piece of technology they own (many don’t have TVs, for instance), and it must therefore perform a number of functions, including financial transactions. Such consumers may be more interested in a feature phone with limited online capabilities, rather than a completely basic phone such as the Nokia 105.
This to me gets to the heart of what the Streamlined trend is all about – while consumers want an easy, stress-free life wherever possible, and don’t want technology to complicate their lives, they appreciate the benefits that technology can bring, and in many cases are reluctant to sacrifice performance in the name of simplicity. They are happy to lose unnecessary clutter or extraneous, gimmicky features, as long as the core functionality is sound. The challenge is to provide consumers globally with everything they need, and nothing they don’t.