1 backward compatibility decision hampers your product

My mother is a secondary school(Grade 7–12 equivalent)teacher. She is experimenting a new way of teaching. The way of teaching requires the student to study the topic of electro-magnet and motor online. After studying online, they need to make an electric motor on their own. The electric motor need to be working. To prove it, the students will record a video, and send it to their teachers. Those videos will be used for grading. Moreover, those videos are also curated and shared during class.

To conduct such experimental and digital way of teaching, my mother is using an e-class solution to aide her. Unfortunately, she is not able to fully use the product. The product is unable to fulfill her need for student to upload their videos for her to grade. Some of their students are unable to upload videos using their platform. At first, the reason is of course unknown to my not so IT proficient mother. As it is very strange for some of her students are able to make it work but some don’t. But some of her colleagues identify the platform doesn’t support iPhone 5 or before, also most of the lower end of Andriod device on mobile web.

Discussing such issue with my father who used to be a CTO, he made a comment that this is a normal engineering decision. The engineer me agree totally. Wearing my engineering hat, I will argue that if you support till iPhone 5 and Android 4.4, 98.5% of the population will be able to use your product. But the product me immediately counter it. Could you spot the problem of such argument?

The pitfall of such thinking is that the world population is not your target user base. In this case of e-class solution, the target user base should be the students of normal, local funded secondary school. By making the backward compatibility list so short, you are essentially blocking under-privileged students to fully participate in the learning experience and harness the benefit provided by your software. Your software is discriminating poor students who can only afford old or low-end smart phone, in a stricter term.

So as a software developer with product mindset, I will put in extra effort to support phones mostly used by poor students, maybe based on teacher feedback and analytics.

Lastly, I think the biggest takeaway is that, sometimes conventional thinking will shoot you in the foot and each product decision needs multiple perspectives to be more thoughtful and serve your user base better.