Monday, July 13, 2009

tech savy

This is a photo of the reset button that was located under the battery of a Creative Zen Media Center Portable that I am getting ready to sell. The reason I show this is that I was struck by the things that I just do, that would have overwhelmed most consumers, to keep electronics running. This device has not been plugged in for such a long time that it was fully dead, it wasn't in deep power sleep or something it had no juice. I plugged in the power supply and the charge light did not come on, so I started by checking the voltage output on the charger to ensure that it hadn't gone bad. I got out my multimeter and striped a wire because the charger was a barrel connector type that required positive voltage to be measured from inside where the probe on my multimeter would not reach. After verifying that the charger was giving steady 5v output, I pulled the batter cover off and lifted the batter to see if the posts on the battery had corroded. Realizing that Li-poly batteries don't corrode, I started looking for a hard reset button and found it while I had the cover off. This immediately started the unit and the charge light came on when I re-inserted the battery. I didn't read a manual or do a google search on why there was no power I started to troubleshoot, and was totally fine with not only the process but the outcome.

Most consumers would have come to the conclusion that it was broken, and called the manufacturer. Given how far out of warranty this device is, they would have been frustrated by the general lack of support they would have been offered, and likely would have pitched it into the landfill or sought help from a whiz-kid via craigslist (assuming they even knew that you could get that type of help). I came to own a Samsung Media Center portable under very similar circumstances, the owner never figured out how to turn it on. Apparently the device shipped in "locked" state. Flipping over the device there was a cover that exposed a hard "on/off" switch, sliding the switch to on, and pressing the power button on the front brought the device that he thought was broken to life. These are engineering decisions that lead the consumer to be confused and annoyed, often to the point that they give up. Apple certainly makes CE devices that are better about this than most. They are not flawless for instance because there isn't the familiar power button leave my mother baffled how to turn off her iPod. Sure it will go to sleep eventually so you could just lock it and it will time out, but she didn't know that.

These type of design logic flaws come up again and again, the 30gig Zune for instance when you plug it in after the battery has completely drained does not begin charging, but rather displays a image on the screen that does not mean anything to the user. After unplugging the device and getting it to power on you can plug it in to resume charging, the device will not charge fully with the unintelligible symbol displayed. This is a design/logic flaw, that took me a few minutes of troubleshooting after letting the device charge for half the day, and booting it up to find that I did not have anywhere near a full charge! After the device was up and running it started to rapidly take a charge, but not until the software had initialized. Never having owned an iPod, I asked and was not tickled to hear that they handle the low power state much more elegantly. I own the original 30gb zune so I cannot speak to if the new ones handle it better, but it is a pretty glaring error in my opinion.

I hope that this insight sticks with me for a while when I think about the consumer experience with Electronics. I have classified most of the experience as acceptable up until recently, but everything needing to be fiddled with is starting to get old.

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