Product features that are conspicuous by their absence

When we study tech products and share examples, we talk of feature implementations. We never talk about feature deficiency by design. Product features which are present by being absent!
Building a feature-laden product on the software assembly line is pretty easy. (1) Copy from competition (2) Listen to consumer feedback (3) Add a dash of design and lo! you have an award-winning product.
We are conditioned to think that we can grow usage by adding more. If the usage is not there, means the product is missing something. So, today I wanted to bring two product features, which are doing more by being absent.
Hope it will give you a new perspective, and make you think that is there something in your product which you can remove and get a positive outcome!

Absent Feature 1: Gmail app on iPhone – Leveraging network to grow Google Drive usage.

Network effect essentially means that as the number of customers and businesses on a platform grow the services improve considerably, thereby bringing in more users at an exponential rate.
But one of the reasons for companies to chase it is because with the right amount of network effect, new products can be introduced and growth hacked to a large size quickly by bundling.
For Example, if you have played any game from a Korean company called Com2US, you might have realized that their new games attract tonnes of new users from day 1. Part of the reason is that Com2US does extensive bartering between its various games. So if you install and play a newly launched game, it will give you additional currency usable in the mature game to spend.
Similarly, companies try to protect networks as well. For the longest time, Apple didn’t allow users to attach stuff from google drive and forced use of icloud. So I guess, Google paid back by becoming overzealous in pushing Google Drive.(assumption here)
Where Gmail takes the cake is that you cannot attach a document from Google Drive when writing a mail in Gmail App. You can only share it as a link. However, if you have a file on the phone, you CAN attach it, and with one click, save it to your Google Drive as well. The iPhone Gmail app will only give you the option to send a link to the file on Google Drive and change its sharing permission.

This is odd. Isn’t it? I mean writing a couple of lines of code to add functionality to download and attach can’t be that difficult. right? but Gmail will only open up a dialogue box for you to change sharing permissions of a Google Drive file. Every other mail client out there will allow file attachments. So taking a call to keep a standard feature absent, takes Guts.
So now if you send a mail with a link to Google Drive, two things are happening
(1) Usage of Google Drive grows.
(2) If the other user is not on Google Drive, then they sign up and get a Gmail account.

Therefore by limiting a feature, Gmail is helping get more usage for Google Drive.

You can always claim that its bad user experience. But trust me, the friction you feel is the first or the second time you are forced to send a link. After that, you don’t mind it much.
However, in the spirit of full disclosure, lack of this feature also made me uninstall my Gmail app and use the iPhone mail app instead, which allows attachment from Google Drive. But I think takers for this solution will be few, and the majority of the world is Android where there is no strong alternative.
Absent Feature 2: Netflix Missing jump forward button.
The second app that drives usage is Netflix. Ever seen a Netflix player? Anything missing there?
Try forwarding the button to skip that scene. You cant. you have to move the player bar, which is very irritating. But if you want to watch something again, you can just click on the small button and rewind it by 15 seconds.

Anyone who watches Netflix realizes pretty quickly that the deck is stacked against them. You cant move forward to the exact place you want, so you have to watch the content at its own pace. Netflix is built for binge watching. So it wants you to watch more, but it doesn’t want you to skip to the end. It wants you to spend the time watching content.(Assumption here)
Compare this with youtube app, which allows you to jump forward and backward as well as watch content at 2X speed. Why? Because youtube has no dearth of content and if you are jumping to the next and the next video, you are making more money for it by watching more advertisements.
Netflix, on the other hand, is a subscription service. This means that if it allows you to go through the content at 2X speed, most probably you will binge-watch everything worthy, and then disconnect the account. So its beneficial for Netflix to slow down your speed.

So the missing forward button i think is one of the most important features that Netflix player has.


I hope I was able to make you think a little bit about how products don’t always gain from adding a feature. Sometimes leaving out a feature is equally effective in gaining and keeping users engaged. The flipside is that such tactics create bad usability and some friction, but again, these strategies are not for a novice app.
Both the apps enjoy a tremendous amount of popularity and network effect and therefore they can sacrifice a few users and downgrade the user experience a little bit for a larger benefit.
The views expressed in this article are my own and don’t reflect the views of any of my employers, present or past.
[By Satyarth Priyedarshi, Head of Product Marketing, JioChat. The article has been reproduced from here.]

Leave a Reply