Monday, June 16, 2008

A Gadget Too Far

This morning I woke up musing about gadgets.

Then I forgot about it.

But Tech Fiend James Kendrick did a post today that reminded me: Smartphone makers- better wake up and smell the Applesauce:
It doesn't matter if we geeks find the iPhone's functions lacking because we are not Apple's target market. Aunt Sue is.

I, of course, disagreed:

Show me what NORMAL person looks at something and says, "You know, this is just too easy to use. Let's eff it all up and make it frustrating!"

Maybe semi-autistic programmers do that, but well before computers came along, industrial designers designed for Ease Of Use.

Even Microsoft nearly caught on to that by having the Start button in Windows. But then they became all autistic and complexified everything up once again.

I was just thinking about all this, this morning. Now that you've reminded me, I'm going to make it a blog post.

And here I am with this post.

This morning I woke up musing about the Sony Reader.

Although I've already declared all e-Ink readers dead, I was still wondering if I'd wind up getting a Reader at some point, even though it'd be akin to buying a Sony CD Walkman.

The more I thought about it, the more the answer became No.

It'd be A Gadget Too Far.

What turned me against ultimately getting a Reader is this: Like all post-computer gadgets, It Doesn't Just Work.

And it actually isn't like a Sony CD Walkman. Because that device Just Works.

With a CD Walkman, all I'd have to do is:

1) Pop in a CD
2) Hit Power
3) Plug in earphones
4) Set volume
5) Perhaps master Skip/Fast Forward/Go Back commands

And that's it. It Just Works.

Now contrast that to a Sony Reader.

1) I'd have to set up an account for it
2) I'd have to load ebooks onto it
3) I'd have to buy special ebooks for it
4) I'd have to wonder about PDFs
5) I'd have to wonder how many ebooks I could put on it
6) I'd have to wonder about using the expansion card
7) I'd have to wonder about firmware updates
8) I'd have to wonder about bugs
9) I'd probably wind up having to read several ebook's worth of forums to maximize its use

Getting a Sony Reader would mean suddenly having to get another education in a specific gadget.

I've got better use for my time!

And I don't mean to pick on the Sony Reader here. The same thing would happen with any e-Ink reader currently out there (probably, in fact, even moreso for the Amazon Kindle!).

And not just ebook readers: It's any digital gadget.

When I buy a new digital camera, I'm going to have to educate myself in that. Hell, I'll have to educate myself in fact before even buying.

The same thing applies to feature-rich cellphones. To Intel's Mobile Internet Devices. To netbooks. Et al.

It's easy to see why the head of Asus predicted that the XP versions of the EeePC will vastly outsell the Linuxed ones. People have already been educated in XP. For them -- and me -- an XPed Asus EeePC will Just Work.

Palm PDAs used to be known for their ease of use. Then they added multimedia and an office-like suite to it. That multiplied the complexity. Their downfall began when Sony jumped ahead of them with all that. If Palm had paid attention to what was going on with the Sony CLIE, they might have put more work into making everything easier to use. But they didn't. The CLIE never sold big. And Palm PDAs shed users left and right as they followed the CLIE path.

And here I am, geekier than the average person, and I'm no longer using my LifeDrive for all the multimedia features it has. I've become disgusted loading video onto it. Disgusted with putting pictures on it. The entire experience is so detestable to me that I haven't even bothered with ebooks. I barely bother with its Calendar function due to the high HWR rate it has with grafted-in Classic Graffiti. My low-end monochrome Sony CLIE S320 was a joy to use. The LifeDrive is a misery.

So if I can become frustrated with tech, imagine how much lower the threshold must be for people who don't get on the Internet several hours each day to read about tech!

Apple is about to find that out very shortly.

Once that App Store goes live and people begin to load up their iPhones, we'll see if the iPhone acceptance rate remains high or if Apple will find itself inadvertently following the Sony CLIE and Palm PDAs into a trap.

Listen: People are not going to get onto the Internet to learn how many apps they can put on the iPhone. They just want to put on whatever they can buy and have it all work. They won't want to deal with the OS getting slower and slower as more things are added.

I don't own an iPhone (yet). But even I haven't bothered to look around to see what Gotchas might be lurking in it. I have privately -- now publicly -- wondered what happens when a ton of photos are added. A ton of MP3s. And all those iPhones that have undergone a jailbreak -- have those owners discovered any Gotchas that are only being discussed in jailbreak forums? What don't the rest of us yet know? (Feel free to answer all of those questions in Comments!)

The Palm Centro has sold over a million. But what does that really mean? I've seen Centros out in the hands of the general public. And without exception, I've seen those Centros put in a pocket or a purse and then an iPod taken out to listen to music! This despite the fact the Centro can do MP3! This might hint that those Centros could be considered a disposable item by buyers who might jump to a $199 iPhone. Why not? They've already been educated in how the iPod portion of it works! They'd go from carrying two gadgets to one. And probably get far more use out of the same features on an iPhone than those offered on the Centro.

People just don't want to have devote precious time in order to use something. We don't need a degree in electrical engineering to turn on the lights. We don't need to be plumbers in order to flush. We don't have to be mechanics to master driving. That's because all the difficult work behind the scenes has been done for us.

This has not been the case with cellphones until the iPhone came along. And it wasn't that way with music players until the iPod came along. And it wasn't that way with desktop computers until the Macintosh came along.

Three in a row for Apple. But what Apple has discovered isn't new at all. It's been the function of industrial design for years and years and years.

All of that history has been forgotten with digital devices. It needs to be discovered again.

Until then, there will be consumer resistance. People will buy one device, two devices, but at some point, learning friction kicks in and the next device being touted is just a gadget too far.

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