In the consumer-tech sense, friction is inconvenience. It's a hassle—steps that stand between you and what you want to buy or do. It's filling out Web forms when you want to buy something, or punching tiny phone buttons to send a photo, or slogging through "wizards" when you want to print a page. [See this month's Scientific American TechnoFiles for more on tech friction.]
It's no coincidence that the four companies described here are gigantic ones; they've mastered the art of reducing friction. Through automation and sophisticated software, they've reduced the hassle down to a single click. A few examples:
iCloud—Apple's free, Internet-based synchronization feature keeps your calendar, address book, e-mail, bookmarks and even photos synchronized across all your machines: Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and so on. Add an appointment on your phone, it's automatically added to your calendar at home.
You're saved worry and hassle—and Apple locks you into its ecosystem.
- Amazon App—This phone app for iPhone or Android phone lets you take a picture of some consumer item—book, vase, printer, wine bottle, anything—and then return later to see it identified by name and model. And then, of course, buy it with one click.
- Facebook Login—You may have noticed that hundreds of Web sites that have nothing to do with Facebook now let you log in with your Facebook name and password, instead of having to create and remember a whole new one. Less friction—more loyalty to Facebook.
- Walgreens Prescriptions by Mail—Walgreens has made an art of reducing prescription friction. They really, really want you to buy your prescriptions there.
For example, you can order something online, then pick it up at the store (any Walgreens store across the country); you even get a text message when it's ready. Better yet, if you're on a medicine that requires refills, the Walgreens site lets you set up automatic refills by mail—the refill arrives just as your stash gets low.
All of these companies save you time, hassle and confusion. They win your loyalty and your shopping dollars. Everybody wins.