There was a time when the term ‘product’ referred to physically tangible things that one could touch and feel – a car, a Television set, a food processor or a toaster – and each type of product would have a ‘model’ number. Switching to a newer product meant moving to a new model and tiny engravings on riveted metal tags were of little consequence. Different models were significantly different in an obvious manner and didn’t require a footnote change-log to be explained.
Not so nowadays. We live a life where products can be hard and tangible, soft or virtual, or a combination of both. And with competition being what it is, the need to create differentiation – real or perceived – determines your market growth and profitability. Enter the new fangled obsession with versions:
- Creating a new version is the easiest way to get to a New & Improved. A v2 MUST be better than a v1 even if all that has changed is the color on the packaging, and, as any fifth grader with an understanding of how progression of natural numbers work can tell you, this theoretically provides an infinite capacity to churn out ‘newer’ versions as long as you don’t run short of different colors to package your goods in.
- A higher version is more prestige – oh so much more respect and admiration. As any fan-boy would tell you (but be vague if asked to explain), the respect and awe that a higher version carries is the stuff social superiority is based on. Between two similar phones with exactly the same feature set, the one running OS v5.0 is much superior to the one on v4.0 (and hey, v5.1 edges out v5.0 and v5.1.2 wins the battle hands down!).
- Customers can be manipulated. With software products – tools, operating systems, applications etc., with the creation process not as cumbersome as in the manufacturing space – it becomes so much easier to provide a bare-minimum-incremental-feature (if at all) in a v2 and save some more features for a v3 later (paid upgrade, of course!). ‘Essential Security Upgrades’ with ‘Critical Stability Fixes’ are the proverbial knife at the throat to help the decision along and often the only newness in a version change other than, of course, that new next fancy number in an arithmetic sequence which is yours to flaunt for free! Add the word ‘beta’ and you can absolve yourself of any responsibility as well.
- Numbers are just not enough. Let’s face it, some people are numerically challenged and can potentially resist or be oblivious to the number+1 strategy. This represents an underutilized upgrade-customer base with potential revenues. Thus the need to complement versions with creative code names such that people at a social do can talk words instead of just numbers. Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, Jelly Bean, Lollipop, Unicorn, Werewolf are what you pay for and delight in. And there is a buzz that can be created to overshadow the product itself and get folks interested (how Key Lime Pie lost out to Kit Kat; hey what is Android M going to be? More-of-the-same?)
There is good news for those examining career options though. You could well become a Version Name Expert as long as you have access to a thesaurus and are suitably familiar with numbers. Keep up skilling though and pick up words in exotic foreign languages from time to time. You’d not want to be replaced by a Version Name Expert v2.0.