31 Mar 2008

Do gadgets make you feel like a dummy? 

Technology "improves" with time. This improvement is often epitomised by "Moores Law". You don't have to understand Moores law in any way other than to mean that every few years your gadgets have the capacity to do twice what they could only a few years earlier. It's miniturisation that's driving this. Only a decade ago a basic mobile phone was the size of a brick - and all it did was make calls. If you wanted a camera, a "pocket" computer, these all came as their very own brick.

Miniturisation. It's great. A phone no longer needs it's own brick - it can share a much smaller brick along with a camera and a mobile phone. This is the most obvious example - but most gadgets have gone down this route. Even the humble toaster - although limited by the size of a slice of break - wants to do more. I saw one recently that can also poach an egg for you.

Is this good?

Well - the Geek Squad have just released some comments and views from their clients. This isn't particularly rigorous research but is interesting for all of that. With gadgets doing so much more it's not uncommon for the manual to be the length of a short novel - covering 50 pages. You gadget might does what you want it to do - you just have to find out how.

Increasing technical capacity has almost lead to an arms race in some areas. More functions coupled with shorter time to market and (because of lower lifespan for a product) lower overall profits often lead to :

  • Less testing with real users leading to complex user interfaces
  • Less testing full stop leading to products not doing what users expect them to do
  • Post-purchase software upgrade mechanisms tempting vendors to ship products before they are ready to meet a deadline and relying on shipping the finished software later.
  • Low sale value (because anyone can churn out a half baked product) coupled with short life-spans mean when customers do complain the after sales support is often close to non-existent.

The result is often a poor quality product that attempts to do too much and in that attempts does none well. A "jack of all trades - master of none".

Unfortunately that same technical capacity has given rise to the Internet - and an opportunity for a dissatisfied customer to vent their frustration to a wide audience. Just look at some of the comments posted recently on GadgetSpeak. The Funai HDR-B2735 being a great case in point - over 30 comments and hardly a positive note amongst them.

So what's your worst gadget? Why? Because it didn't do what you wanted? Because it broke not long after you bought it? Do let us know!

Comments

My personal pet hate is 'digital' bathroom scales. My mum still has the mechanical pair she bought around 20 years ago working fine. We've been through three sets of digital scales costing between £40 and £80 in the last 5 years. When the most expensive broke I took it apart to see what was wrong. Basically no servicable parts, but the real problem with the pathetic electrical contacts between a couple of elements relying on friction to make the contacts!

Bad design - poor quality trash.

On the plus side - to be fair I still have a Palm V personal organiser that is now over 9 years old and in perfect working order. I also have an old Nokia 6310i mobile phone that's over 5 years ol. It's a phone. Has no camera - no mobile phone - doesn't download games or ring tones (I think). But it does work and has a simple menu system!

Comment by lost-in-a-sea-of-gadgets - 1 Apr 2008 10:27
I have loved gadgets all my life, and still do, but....
is it just age I ask myself ~ most of what is said absolutley goes over my head.  Things just seem to be so complicated.
Comment by jennyp19 - 1 Apr 2008 10:14

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