Reflection on Tool Products

photo by Paul Pastourmatzis on Unsplash

I personally enjoy tinkering with tools. After observing many tool products, I attempt to analyze the relationship between tools and needs from the perspective of tools, and further explore the meaning and development trends of tools.

The Meaning of Tools#

The emergence of a tool is because we need to solve a requirement, which is the most direct motivation and the greatest significance of a tool. Although there are countless tools available now, if we peel back the layers of a tool, we will find that the simplest tool points to the most primitive need.

Needs cannot remain in the most primitive and simple state, just as the supply and demand of goods cannot remain in simple barter. With the development of society, people are facing increasingly complex problems, and the requirements for tools are also increasing. People's expectations for tools are no longer just about meeting needs, but also about solving needs more efficiently.

Therefore, the meaning of the existence of tools is to solve various needs in a "faster, better, and more cost-effective" way.

Derivation of Needs#

The derivation of needs brings about the derivation of tools. Here, derivation refers not only to the derivation of needs in different situations, but also to the possibilities that needs can be linked to. The former, using a chair as an example, its original birth was to provide a comfortable way to rest. Due to the addition of other attributes, such as crowd attributes and application environments, chairs began to present a variety of forms: child safety seats, ordinary chairs, ergonomic chairs for office use, relaxing massage chairs, recliners for the elderly... As for the possibilities that needs can be linked to, taking creator tools as an example, tools link creators to meet their creative needs, link peers to meet their collaboration needs, and link ordinary users to meet their consumption needs.

The more a need has derivability, the greater the demand for tools, and the more useful it is for tool producers. Its market value is also immeasurable. On the other hand, if the derivability of a need is insufficient but the demand is huge, although the value may not be as high, it should not be underestimated.

For example, when smartphones first appeared, the most common software was not the various content consumption applications we have now, but the most basic tools such as weather, cleaning tools, and desktops. These tools were very simple, and the needs they aimed to solve were also very clear. Although many people developed such tools, only a few outstanding tools survived and even became the cornerstone of companies. Even now, when I open those software again, the interface and functions have not changed much-because this type of need is very specific, it does not have much derivation, and the tools have not changed much either.

However, even so, many companies have thrived with the help of these single tools. This is thanks to a large number of users (these tools were basically essential on early smartphones). I have an understanding of this because when I interviewed several overseas companies last year, I found that their products were actually applications from the early days of tinkering with Android. After chatting in detail, I learned that although these products are simple, they all have hundreds of millions of users.

However, even a large user base has its limits. Moreover, these specific tools do not have high barriers to entry, users have low switching costs, and there is great pressure to monetize the applications. Therefore, once glorious overseas companies have to seek other commercialization paths.

Therefore, from the perspective of market value, needs with broad derivability and a large user base are most suitable for investment. The next are needs with insufficient derivability but a large user base. Lastly, there are needs with a single focus and a small user base. A typical example of the latter is the "three-piece set" that independent developers love: personal notes, accounting, and to-do tools.

Development of Tools#

Combining the analysis above, I believe that tools can be simply divided into three stages: simple tools, collaboration, and platform ecology.

The first stage: tools that meet single needs. For example, weather, cleaning tools, or the once popular "Wi-Fi Master Key" on countless "borrowing network" smartphones. These tools are generally used and discarded, and meeting the needs is the greatest value. Once the needs are met, users have no need to continue using them. As a provider, it is difficult for latecomers to have opportunities, after all, no matter how talented a person is, they cannot make weather tools more interesting. There are many such tools, but most of them stop at this stage.

The second stage: the demand for collaboration. With the emergence of complex problems, in addition to high-quality tools, to improve efficiency, individual efforts are no longer sufficient to meet the needs. At this time, new requirements are put forward for tools: collaboration. A typical example of this stage is documents, from local writing to online collaboration.

The third stage: the emergence of platform ecology. The so-called platform ecology refers to the connection and effective complementation of multiple groups, so as to meet the needs of all parties and enter a more sustainable cycle. The more a tool can directly or indirectly connect, the easier it is to form an ecosystem and enter a more stable state. Typical examples are tools like Jianying, which connect creators and consumers. Both parties are in a supply relationship and have network effects. Once they scale up, both creators and consumers can easily obtain what they need and are less likely to leave.

It can be seen that the development of tools is constantly responding to increasingly complex scenarios, which reflects another layer of meaning of tools: efficiency. Good tools can reduce the user's input and increase efficiency. Therefore, no matter when, people always expect good tools to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This is also the inherent driving force for the continuous emergence of excellent tools.

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