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.

Explore posts in the same categories: eBooks, Reference - Life, Reference - Tech, Tech - Apple, Tech - Other, Tech - Sony

12 Comments on “A Gadget Too Far”

  1. Jim Says:

    This is the kind of lazy blog post that reflects badly on bloggers.

    You ask a lot of questions that you could easily get answers to by paying close attention to what Apple has stated publicly and published online about the iPhone app development process, the SDK, the iPhone App Store, and the iPhone 2.0 software.

    You ignore some rather obvious answers having to do with (hint) device convergence, as well as (hint) info from Steve Jobs’ most recent keynote about iPhone users’ rate of usage of multiple features on their devices.

    You could find this stuff out yourself with the hours of time you spend every day surfing tech, and then post something of actual, informed substance for your readers, but instead, you expect everyone else to do the work for you by spoon-feeding you answers in the comments.

    If you don’t want to know how something will work, it would be better for you not to post on the subject than to proclaim that it probably won’t work, even though you’ve invested no time or insight into whether that’s actually true or not.

  2. mikecane Says:

    Thank you for missing the point so entirely.

  3. Jim Says:

    Well, maybe you should learn how to write more clearly. You seem to jump between at least two different “points,” but one of them seems to be: there are probably hidden “gotchas” about the iPhone app process, but you’re too lazy to go find out about it yourself, so “Aunt Sue” won’t be able to figure out how to use her iPhone.

    My point is, the “gotchas” probably won’t be there, based on the information that’s already available and accessible to geeks like you. Therefore, Aunt Sue won’t need to go searching for information on how to deal with them. She’ll get her iPhone, and it’ll work.

    Do you really think Apple would jump into the smartphone market and not address the issues that have made previous portable devices like Palms, Clie’s, Windows Mobile phones and eReaders perform poorly? If so, you don’t understand at all how Apple rolls.

  4. freescifistories Says:

    You make some interesting points. However, the VCR (now PVR/DVD recorder) has always been one of the more difficult devices to use in terms of recording tv but has been very popular because of its utility. Also, I believe that Palm failed ultimately because they didn’t continue to innovate. They were still producing a simplistic OS when the demand for more complex features was growing.
    If you take the point here to its logical conclusion then there is no point in making (and in fact ever buying) any new and innovative products because of the learning curve.

  5. Gerald Says:

    “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…”

    That’s the “U” in FUD.

    Go to tuaw.com and read what Erica Sudan (iPhone Hacker) has to say.

  6. mikecane Says:

    >>>Well, maybe you should learn how to write more clearly.

    Dialogue from the classic movie Lust For Life ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049456/ ):

    Gaugin to Van Gogh: You paint too fast.

    Van Gogh: You LOOK too fast!

    >>>You seem to jump between at least two different “points,” but one of them seems to be: there are probably hidden “gotchas” about the iPhone app process, but you’re too lazy to go find out about it yourself, so “Aunt Sue” won’t be able to figure out how to use her iPhone.

    Thank you for playing. Maybe third time will be the charm.

  7. mikecane Says:

    >>>You make some interesting points. However, the VCR (now PVR/DVD recorder) has always been one of the more difficult devices to use in terms of recording tv but has been very popular because of its utility.

    And most of them are still busy blinking 12:00 into the new century!

  8. mikecane Says:

    >>>That’s the “U” in FUD.

    No. That’s the lack of $ in WALLET

    Although there was some small bit of U until the 3G iPhone was actually announced.

    >>>Go to tuaw.com and read what Erica Sudan (iPhone Hacker) has to say.

    I’ll look, but URLs are nice to have too.

  9. Don’t know about the iPhone as it hasn’t been released in Canada yet, but my iPod touch is awesome. Have it loaded with mp3s, photos, and videos and it’s all good.

  10. PV Says:

    Great responses. Most geeks just don’t get it. I want technology to simplify my life, not complicate it. I find that many “features” in technology are just selling points that are eventually ignored by the average user. Most devices — from my camera to my old and seldom used VCR — are not too complex for me, but they simply take too much effort.

  11. mikecane Says:

    THANKS! You understood my point exactly.

  12. Terry Says:

    Great read. I have been a user of mobile devices since the HP 200LX and Apple Newton days and now the iPhone. I have owned almost every device that has come out. It has been a great ride but I have grown tired of configuring, reloading, creating baseline backups after every software install, reloads of PIM data because a sync went haywire, etc. For me, he iPhone is the first converged device that has done it right. Simplicity with a sense of awe. I feel like I am holding the future. Is it perfect? No. Does it do everything my HTC Advantage does? No. But 90% of what I need to do, it does it right, 100% of the time.

    My wife, who is not a gadget geek, loves her iPhone much more than the Treo 650 I got her a couple of years ago. Again, it ties back to simplicity and it working for her all of the time.

    For reference, here is my device history:
    200LX, Newton 120, Newton MP 2100, PalmPilot, Philips Velo1, HP 620LX, 660LX, HP’s 680, 690, 568, REX5000, TriPad, Clio-1050, z50, E-115, E-125, Visor Prism, Compaq Aero 2130, iPAQs 3650,3670,3850,3870,5450, Toshiba e740, 128MB iPAQ 3970, iPAQ 5555, Treo 600, Treo 650, PPC-6700, HTC Advantage, iPhone.

    The Newton 2100, HP 200LX, and iPaq 3870, and Palm Treo 600 were the devices that provided the most customer satisfaction in the past.

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