30 August 2005

Consumer unfriendly devices

My views on the EyeTV device in another post here converged with this post from Charles Arthur's blog about a serious problem he encountered with his Sky+ box.

My dabblings with the EyeTV device were also only brought about by the complete failure of my Pace Twin Micro PVR to do a reliable job after applying every software update I could.

In just one area (PVR's) these stories paint a very poor picture indeed of what we as consumers have become accustomed to, and actually accept (or do we?). Charles and I are relatively geeky people. What happens to the mass of people who are not? VCR's just worked. And when they didn't it was likely to be human error - something we can accept.

I think this picture is replicated in so many areas of technology today and is getting worse. HDTV's promise will be a massive disappointment to many people when it first comes out, mark my words. The result will be considerably slower takeup. I already refrain from recommending what should be great stuff to (non-geeky) friends because I know it doesn't just work like it should. Charles has had some serious frustrations with Digital Terrestrial TV. I bought a DAB radio for my car 4 years ago that was completely useless. What about the endless efforts by consumers to protect their computer equipment from virii, spyware etc. At the minimum wage, I suspect the collective cost of time consumed is greater than the GDP of a mid-sized nation!

On the other hand, it shows that we should indeed celebrate when things do work as we hoped and expected. If anyone doubts that the success of the iPod is primarily about the fact that it JUST WORKS (iPod + iTunes + iTMS) for (just about) everyone should check out some of the other products in geekdom occasionally.

However, even in iPodland, there are efforts afoot to mess this up. While this is a well-covered topic from last week, this article is a good analysis of how big companies (still) just don't get it. Such efforts will be counter-productive to all concerned (content providers, intermediaries and of course law-abiding consumers).

These collective failings are serious indeed, and perhaps we geeks have to do something about it by not accepting faulty products because we can either live with the deficiencies or work around them? We certainly can't rely on consumer reviews to do anything about them because they're either just not up to the job (eg Which magazine), or not sufficiently independent of the vendor themselves.

Thoughts please?

update: read this on Hollywood and Vista and weep

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