January 11, 2013

The New Model Year

The promised followup to the previous post is currently being written, I digress for a moment to contemplate the philosophy of some current business models.
Imagine for a moment that your car has just died.
The mechanic has informed you that there is nothing to be done, you will have to replace your vehicle.
You bid a sad adieu to your old friend, and hopefully venture out to find a new automobile.

Having heard exciting things about the latest in automobile technology, you hurry off to the showroom to see the latest offerings.
The choices are overwhelming, the terminology is confusing, and your friends are all in different camps about which is the best. Undaunted, you do some research and return to the showroom, ready to make your purchase.
The salesperson is delighted to assist you in acquiring the perfect auto for your needs, with all the features that are "absolutely necessary" in modern life.
As you are finishing up the purchase, the salesman mentions that they have lessons available since you will have to learn to drive all over again to use the newest vehicle.
Initially you are a bit aghast, you know how to drive - you have been driving for years! But, you are informed, new car controls are entirely different than the old models like you had - nothing for it, you have to re-learn how to drive.
Taking possession of your new car, you are initially stumped by the completely unfamiliar controls and layout. "I simply want to drive to the store!!" you cry.
Eventually, after some time, you become familiar with the controls and are able to drive the new auto nearly as well as you drove the old one. There are certainly a lot of buttons, switches and dials that you don't use or really recall how to work - but you get where you need to go. You do wind up buying a portable radio since you never have been able to figure out the audio system.
Then one day, about 2 years after you bought your new car, it suddenly stops working. You have it towed into the dealer, only to be told that this is an old model. They no longer have any parts for it or mechanics who can work on it. You will have to buy a new one.
You are aghast. Your old car ran for YEARS with no trouble, the new one is worn out already!?
Ah, they say, but that old one used outdated technology! The newest cars have the latest features, and do everything your old car did and SO much more!! And they completely upgraded the audio system!!
It now has plugs so you can connect all sorts of accessories!! SO much BETTER!
You sigh...seems this is how cars are made these days. Grumbling, you choose your new vehicle. As you climb into the new vehicle, you realize that none of the controls are familiar at all. It seems that they have improved the design yet again. You have to learn to drive all over again.
Gritting your teeth, you once again begin the process of figuring out how to get your latest vehicle to do what you need it to do. After frustration, swearing and lots more time invested, you figure out how to get it to function adequately for your needs. Of course now, in addition to the portable radio, you have to drive with the car windows open all summer since you cannot figure out how to turn off the heater or get the air conditioning to work. "There has GOT to be a better way to make cars!" you think.
Then, 9 months after your latest purchase - your car dies.
Furious, you take it to the dealer and demand that they repair it.
The dealer looks it over and tells you that this model never really took off, people didn't seem to care for it much - so they have discontinued it and have a greatly improved model that they will sell you at a great discount with your trade-in!! You suspiciously look over the showroom model - and sure enough, you will have to learn how to drive all over again.

Now this is obviously a stupid business model. Who is going to invest that kind of time and effort?
Most of us would purchase a bus pass - or a horse!!
Why would anyone keep spending their time and money over and over again just to get a product to do what they need?

Obviously - this model is familiar to anyone who uses consumer electronics. We deal with product that are constantly being upgraded, proprietary this-that-and-whatsit, bells and whistles that we have no need or use for and that make using the product more difficult. We tolerate lousy phone reception, dropped calls and dead zones for the convenience of cell phones. Picture quality for candid snapshots has degraded since people are using camera phones. We have developed a shorthand for text messaging since it is incredibly difficult to type messages onto a tiny mobile phone screen. The basic utility of objects is being sacrificed, marginally useful "add-ons" increase complexity and often cause product failure - and then are expected to discard the technology after a year or so and buy the latest and the greatest and start all over again.
This model has been adopted by a number of industries, rather than products being designed help customers accomplish a task - customers are being given products that they are expected to adjust their expectations to accommodate. And if customers resist the process and demand utility?
"Our customers are simply resistant to change."
YOU are broken.
I find it fascinating reading past predictions of what the future would look like. In almost every case, the assumption has been that the drive would be to improve the usefulness and efficiency of our technology. Sadly, what has occurred is that many industries have found it more cost effective to simply change customer expectations.