I love my iPhone 5. Its small enough to use with one hand, its screen has amazing color accuracy and it’s damn fast. But that’s not what makes the iPhone 5 so endearing for me. Out of all the phones I’ve owned (including every other iPhone I’ve owned), the iPhone 5 has an astonishing ability to cling to its last 1% of battery life.
Last Saturday I was headed out to a party, but I needed to coordinate with friends. After I had already hopped in a cab, I realized that my phone was at 1%. I said a quick prayer to the Apple Gods and proceeded to make a 5 minute phone call, use Google Maps to get directions to where I was going, sent a couple of texts and waited another 10 minutes to receive an important text reply. After all that, the phone still proudly indicated 1% battery remaining. My iPhone had my back when I needed it most. I was beyond impressed. In fact I was so impressed that when I finally met up with my friends that night, I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing a product the iPhone 5 is.
I greatly suspect that this behavior is the result of clever battery tuning on the part of some brilliant engineers in Cupertino. Apparently, I’m not the only one to wonder about this. If Apple did indeed artificially inflate the length of 1%, they didn’t invent this concept. Auto makers have long designed fuel gauges such that there is about a gallon of “reserve” gas left in your tank even when the car’s computer reports that you have 0 miles to empty. And similar to the 1% battery effect, surely some of the most happy/satisfying moments that a car owner has is pulling into a gas station after having convinced themselves that they weren’t going to make it.
It occurs to me though that the products in my life that I have the most emotional connection to are those that come through for me in critical situations such as the ones I mention above. So is this phenomenon something that only physical projects can embrace? I don’t think so. Software can too. A great example of this is the Undo Send feature in Gmail. It’s saved my butt at least once a week for as long as I’ve been using Gmail. And every time I click Undo, I fall in love with Gmail all over again. Another example that comes to mind was Microsoft Office’s document recovery functionality that could recover most of your document after a system crash. That was outstanding software design when that feature was first introduced in the early 1990s and it without a doubt saved me hours of agony in high school alone.
If you’re an engineer or a PM that’s reading this, I’d urge you to take a few minutes and think about an answer to this question: When and how can your product be your user’s hero?