Feature vs Product

When you understand the difference between a feature and a product, designing that successful product will be easier.


Last night a friend sent me a message:

What do you think about this?

The next message was a link to an article on Forbes about PowaTag. In summary it’s a product which allows you to take a picture of something and you can immediately buy it.

I read it over and responded:

It’s a nice feature, but it’s not a product.

I then researched the topic more and found similar offerings from Pounce, Amazon and eBay. When I did this, I found my original statement quite valid — it’s not a product but a feature. So then, how does one tell the difference?

It’s A Feature, Not A Product

As we talked about the PowaTag, she made the case that it was a ‘great idea’ and perhaps it would be better than Amazon. At this point I explained about how I saw the job which Amazon was doing. The job to be done with Amazon is not about buying, it’s about shopping. You use Amazon for shopping related tasks, such as exploring, comparing and researching products. Then, when you are satisfied, you make a purchase.

I then asked her to consider a situation, in the past, where a product such as PowasTag or Pounce would be helpful. I asked her when was the last time she saw something in a magazine, or physically in front of her, and without any other input, immediately bought it — either by going to a store or buying it online.

She never did.

The reason is that the job which PowaTag and Pounce are doing is on a feature scale and not on a product scale.

Product vs Feature

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying that Dropbox was a feature and not a product. He was both right and wrong about that. If Dropbox was just about backing up files on your desktop computer and /or sharing them across your devices, yes it’s a feature. However, that isn’t the job that Dropbox does. Dropbox’s job is to make all your of digital content (images, videos, books, documents) easily accessible across different situations spanning different people (sharing and collaborating) to places and technologies (Apple laptop -> Android mobile)

Dropbox has segments of situations (‘sharing’ & ‘file management’) which springboard features.

That is what a Product does — it provides solutions for a range of situations that fall within situational segment(s). Each situational segment is a collection of tangent jobs that someone wants to get done. If you’re not sure if what you are considering is either a feature or a product, consider the images above and below and think where it would fit in that scenario.

A map of how a product can be split up into situational segments & jobs.

Now, consider the feature described before with Pounce and PowaTag: taking a picture of an item and immediately making a purchase. How does that fit into the above diagram? Is it really addressing one or more situational segments…or is it just just one step?

In fact, if we look at current behavior, it’s skipping steps. People, currently, don’t immediately buy something without any other input. They usually:

  1. See an item they are interested in.
  2. Either ask or research where to find it.
  3. Go to a store (online or offline) to purchase that specific item.

Now, it’s easy to try and condense and simplify this; however, that third step is actually quite complicated. When you go to a store, you’re not in a vacuum. You have access to comparable products and you can ask a salesperson for advice (offline) or read reviews (online).

Look At What Customers Do Now

The key to creating successful products is to understand how you can make existing behaviors more efficient OR by building upon an existing behavior to empower & enable new ones.

When you understand how features are just pieces which solve smaller jobs within a situational segment and a product is a collection of situational segments, you have a greater potential to design a successful product.