Monday, September 01, 2014

Lessons from our "Simply Vibe" soundbar: sunk costs and the curse of the embedded processor

Years ago, based on the recommendation of a web site that might have been something like Wirecutter, we bought a low cost Amazon sound bar for kitchen use. In retrospect, we violated Gordon’s Laws of Acquisition [1] — a cheap purchase had a high cost of ownership. By way of penance, I present a warning to others.


We used the @$30 device it for 2 years before a failing battery brought us to our senses. Over those two years we endured hundreds of dollars worth of aggravation [2] - all because this simple device incorporated a chip with the capabilities of a 1970s mini-computer (more or less). A chip that allowed a Chinese engineer to inflict their personal version of usability Hell on the world. The volume behaviors were the inverse of the US standard, every button had two to three uses, you could plug in a peripheral with its own odd mechanical switch, attach a USB music source (mp3, no AAC - not a FairPlay issue, just no AAC support), and Darwin-forbid, it could even be a display-free radio. 

The sound was fine.

As has been noted often, there’s a lot to be said for limited choice technologies. The more choices technology affords, the more designer talent is needed to manage the choices. Which is probably why we have exactly one competent producer of embedded processor consumer electronics, and so much trash ware.

Now I’m looking for an alternative. We want a first class FM radio user interface, a simple audio in connector and … dare I say it … bluetooth.

[1] See also: Gordon’s Laws for buying software and services

[2] The amount someone would have had to pay us to use such a stupid device if it hadn’t been our idea in the first place.

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