Tonight I was channel surfing and stumbled on the Task One iPhone Case in a TV News feature story from an outfit called Task Labs.. Their website is up but not complete. It still has the Latin text of an incomplete webpage template, but you can buy it online if you wish.
Read more: http://thetasklab.com/
I want to emphasize that I wish to be completely fair here. I am a dedicated Swiss Army Knife aficionado and a dedicated smart mobile user. I have a simple version of a Swiss Army Knife with a corkscrew in my pocket as I write this. A corkscrew is one of my mandatory survival tools (smile). I have followed the Wall Street Journal coverage of the merger of the two Swiss companies that produce the knives. It is a great story and a great product. I have the full Boy Scout version in my tool drawer. The Task Labs people should also remember the tried and true publicity adage, “Any PR is good PR.”
But I also have to admit that it took me a minute to realize that the TV story was not a Saturday Night Live parody skit, with Dan Akroyd trying get me to call and give him my credit card number. The Task One iPhone Case is a real product, though its website does not appear to be “ready for prime time.” Nor does the product concept appear to be ready for prime time, IMHO. I am certain that some of my readers will see this, and rush out to buy one, but other more discriminating consumers are more likely to start asking a lot of hard marketing questions about this new innovation. To me this product is an extreme example of everything that is wrong with innovation. Said another way, “Is that all there is?” Another great existential phrase many of us are now using says “Hey, it is what it is!”
The market positioning of this product according to the TV person, was simple. What do you do when you take your iPhone out into the woods with you on a hike, then realize that you have no cellular signal, no nothing. The Task One iPhone case is their answer. Let me know your opinion on the Task One iPhone Case.
I could probably go on for hours compiling a longer list of issues with this product, but here goes:
1. Kiss Your Phone Goodbye Going Through Airport Security: This one seems obvious. I cannot count the number of Swiss Army Knives i have personally lost at airport security. Then think about the number of Swiss Army Knives they have confiscated.
2. “Small” idea. The inspiration for this product is nothing new. It is simply trying to kludge together two things that work perfectly well on their own. So the real question is why bring your phone into the bush, when you need to leave the phone home, and bring your Swiss Army Knife? I know that some people will adamantly say that you should bring your mobile phone with you for GPS, etc. Perhaps, but no mobile phone GPS system was designed for use in the bush. Take your phone with you on a long hike, and try to use your GPS and you will see what I mean. Nor is a useful pocket knife designed to look like a phone. The Task One is a marginally useful appendage to a mobile phone, that will not fit comfortably in the palm as a knife does. It encourages a sense of complacency in the bush, when serious backcountry experts would probably laugh. Or is it for use to impress your friends, out on a Friday night at the local pub? The accessories appear to include all kinds of cool extra stuff, like a battery charger (Huh?). So as long we are brainstorming this product, it needs a compass. A mirror would be good. Remember all of the movies where the guy lost in the woods uses a mirror to signal rescuers? Any other suggestions?
3. Price. The price is $99. I can buy a comparable Swiss Army Knife for $30. Are you prepared to pay $99 for an iPhone case? Not sure about the price of the accessories.
4. The Market. The market may seem big, but wait a minute. Most smart mobile phones have different form factors, even the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. So Task One and Task Labs must address a fragmented market with multiple products. This is starting to sound very complicated and expensive. Can I get one for my Samsung Nexus? No.
5. Marketing. I think that this company, like so many of these giddy mobile market companies, is so full of itself that it hasn’t thought through the distribution issues, including a half finished website.
The very fact that when I first saw the TV story, I assumed that it was a spoof, is a warning signal.
The knee jerk joke of “There’s an app for that!” isn’t really that funny. Many experienced Silicon Valley veterans have complained loudly about the current malaise of misplaced infatuation with mobile apps, as the apparent end all and be all of Silicon Valley. Vinod Khosla, Marc Andreeson, Max Marmer and a laundry list of others have asked rhetorically how Silicon Valley could have lost its way so badly? Silicon Valley was founded on Big Ideas.
I published “Silicon Valley’s Misguided Love Affair With An App For Everything, ” and “App Development Boom’s Depressing Underbelly” after reading a New York Times story on the topic.