Paul Buchheit, creator of Gmail, has a valuable piece of advice on building a great product, citing examples of Gmail and iPod:
If you’re creating a new product, what are the three (or fewer) key features that will make it so great that you can cut or half-ass everything else? Are you focusing at least 80% of your effort on getting those three things right?
Very nicely and concisely put. A must read, even if you are only a user and not a designer.
Both Gmail and iPod followed this advice and managed to revolutionize how things worked.
However, I see some differences between Gmail and iPod. Gmail has continued to evolve and more importantly free the user. The Web interface works with most of the modern browsers on all operating systems. Standard POP, IMAP access works great with many desktop or mobile email clients. I can’t say the same about the iPod. It is inherently biased towards Apple – an implicit vendor lock-in.
In my opinion a product can build a long-term strategy by following Paul’s advice in such a way that it retains the user’s freedom of choice.