My wife got me a very nice Christmas gift – a high-end Plantronics Bluetooth headset for my cell phone.  When she told me where she bought it (Radio Shack), I checked the price, which was $100.  I then went on the Web and “shopped around,? finding the same headset for as low at $60.

My next task was reviewing the headset’s features on-line (I still had not opened the box).  Lo and behold – it had a lot of nice capabilities, including many that I would never need or use (think Microsoft Office and how many of the capabilities in Word, Excel and PowerPoint you really make use of).  Over the next couple of days I looked around for a headset with the features I did need, at a more reasonable price, finally buying an $80 Jabra unit that, with rebates, was only $30 at Fry’s.  Finally, I returned the Plantronics headset to Radio Shack.

The purpose of this story is not to show what a great shopper I am (that point is debatable), but to impress upon you the importance of buying only what you need in a product, not what someone else (spouse, friend, salesman) thinks you need.  Unless, of course, you like to waste your money.  This philosophy applies to virtually any purchased item, but is particularly relevant to electronics products and their rapidly growing feature sets.  Whether in the market for a new computer, flat screen TV, cell phone or music player – determine what you really “need? and then add on your most important “wants.?  This should guide your purchase decision, not the bells and whistles you’ll never ring or blow.

Oh, by the way, when I discussed my headset ideas with my wife, she agreed with the decision to buy the far less expensive unit.  More money for us to spend on other things was probably in the back of her mind.  Smart woman!

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: January 31, 2008, 10:45 am | No Comments »

The other day I was watching a segment on 60 Minutes about the Geek Squad, the company formed in the mid-1990s to help consumers set up computer, home-theatre and other electronic systems.  The premise was simple – most electronic systems in the consumer space are too complicated for the average person to tackle successfully.  Remember the joke about all those VCRs blinking 12:00 because no one could set their clocks?  If you think things were difficult then, look at what we have now.


The common themes in consumer electronics are – add more features, shrink the footprint, decrease power consumption and reduce prices over time.  Vendors have done these jobs very well.  However, along the way they forgot to do one thing – make it easy for the average consumer to buy an electronic device and be able to set it up and use it WITHOUT OUTSIDE HELP.  I’ve been immersed in Silicon Valley electronics for over 30 years and still have to really put my mind to it when I buy a new gizmo.  Imagine the plight of a middle-aged gas station attendant somewhere in a small town in Iowa.


Both electronics vendors and their customers – you and I – need to place more emphasis on the human interface – making it easier for the average person to set up and learn to use an electronic device, be it an HDTV, MP3 player, digital camera, or cell phone (to name just a few).   Low prices are nice, but how many of us really use all the whiz-bang features in your new electronic “toy? (or even in your version of Microsoft Office)?  Make ease of learning and ease of use two factors to consider when shopping for a new phone or camera.  Consider what features you really need (not what sound impressive) and then check out the competing products with that feature set.


Successful vendors of consumer electronics should be (and sometimes are) the companies that really do consider the ability of a potential customer to deal with their products.  Consider the iPhone.  Its success, I believe, has been based as much on its easy-to-use and understandable touchscreen and virtual buttons than on what you can do with it. 

Product understanding and ease of use are the real keys to consumer electronics differentiation.  If more of us kept this in mind while shopping, then maybe more of the vendors of these products would wise up.

Posted by admin, filed under Uncategorized. Date: January 3, 2008, 7:03 pm | 1 Comment »