Creating Mobile Products by Division

by Drew Boyd

Mobile PhonesMobility is a good thing. As mobility increases, so does our standard of living. Mobility expands job opportunities, enriches our personal life, and boosts prosperity. For nations, mobility expands trade, creates wealth, and makes countries more competitive. Mobility even helps us live longer. For hundreds of years, life expectancies hovered around 40 years. During the 1800s they began to shoot up when road transport improved. Today life expectancies in many advanced societies approach 80 years thanks to improved mobility in transportation, communications, and network computing.

How can we use structured innovation to create more of it? How can we make the products and services we use every day more mobile? For this month’s LAB, we will use the Division Template. We begin by listing the product’s (or service’s) internal components. Then we divide one or more of the components in one of three ways:

  • Functional (divide along functional roles)
  • Physical (cut the product or component on any physical aspect)
  • Preserving (each part preserves the characteristics of the whole)

Using Function Follows Form, we envision potential benefits of the new form and other ways to adapt the form to make it more useful. The trick is to use each type of Division with the specific intent of increasing a person’s mobility. Each type of Division results in a different type of mobility. Here is how.

Functional Division

To use Functional Division, we start by listing the functions alongside the component list. In some cases, multiple components may be needed to perform one function. We imagine the function “carved” out of the total system. Then we “mobilize” it. We create access to the function away from the original product. Cellphones are perhaps the best example of that. Cellphones give us access to telephone communications away from the home or office. Mobile banking is another example. Take a look at the apps on your iPhone and you will see many examples of Functional Division. My favorite is Chord Play, and app to play guitar chords while…mobile. But notice the app itself is not a mobile guitar. Rather, just the function of playing chords has been mobilized.

Physical Division

With Physical Division, we don’t just imagine carving out a component or its function. We actually cut something out along any physical dimension. For this exercise, I prefer to physically cut the function out of the original unit in a way that it can be taken with me in mobile fashion, but then returned back to the main unit at some point. Here is an example of such a product. It is from the Stout Tool Corporation. The STX-50 is a one-handed, cordless band saw. It is a mobile cutter. But snap it into place in the STX-50 Cutting Station and it becomes a traditional tabletop band saw. This product was invented by taking the core function of the original product (cutting) and making it mobile. Let’s look at another example: how would we make a mobile refrigerator using Physical Division? We would have a refrigerator that would allow you to remove a compartment and take it with you. Imagine having a portable beverage container or freezer unit that lifts out of the refrigerator, allows you to keep things cool while away, then is reattached back inside the main refrigerator. I like this approach to Division because it tends to create the most novel mobile applications.

Preserving Division

A traditional way to make something mobile is to create a smaller version of the original. We make it portable. Many products fit into this category…portable chair, portable printer, portable music, portable disk drive. Without realizing it, we are using the Division Template. A six-pack of Coke Cola is a divided two litre bottle of Coke into smaller units that preserve the characteristics of the original. Going back to our refrigerator example, a small, portable cooler is a refrigerator that has been made mobile. Notice how this differs from the other refrigerator example above. In that example, we divided out an actual part of the main unit. Here, we just made a smaller main unit. This is perhaps the easiest method for creating mobile products.


Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd

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