Monday, December 31, 2007

The great product problem: consumers

One step in my convoluted cell phone Sprint/RAZR -> AT&T/iPhone strategy is getting a "free with contract" AT&T cell phone before I buy the iPhone.

There are two "features" I want in the "free" phone. I want to be able to charge it from a standard USB cable/charger and I want it to have a standard 3.5 mm headset mini-jack. The former means one less charger when I travel. The latter is obviously important.

Any geek would agree these are very valuable features. Note the iPhone fails both tests; though it will at least charge from an USB source and you can modify a mini-jack plug to fit. The evil RAZR fails the mini-jack test and will not charge from a standard USB power source.

So, try to find out what AT&T phones actually charge from a USB power source. I'll wait until you get back ...

Right. You can't find out. I tried the AT&T chat sales support (comes up if you plink around their site long enough) and the rep didn't know. He suggested I try Phone Finder - search database of cell phone specs & features (Phone Scoop).

Right. Nothing there either. (They do have a 3.5 mm mini-jack criteria though!)

Here's the interesting part. This problem isn't just limited to the benighted cell phone world. I find manifestations of this problem in my day job, in the software I buy, and in most of the products I buy.

The problem is there's a big gap between what's important and what sells. Since we live in a world of finite resources, resources are directed to what sells, not to functionality that delivers ongoing value (like one less charger when traveling).

So where's the gap come from?


Humans, in other words.

In an increasingly complex world the African Plains Ape is increasingly adrift, no longer able to make rational buying choices. So the ape buys based on interchangeable face plates rather than USB charging.

So, short of upgrading the APA, what's the best we can hope for?

This is going to hurt.


The company that knows what's best for us, and will ram it down our throats until we agree. I think the "strong brand" and "company with a reputation" is about the best we're going to get.

At least until we can start to "print" our own devices ...

Update: PhoneScoop did respond to a request to add the USB power attribute. I'll be impressed if they do that!

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