The Futurist: Simple Ways Gadgets Could Be Better

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We love gadgets. And, like everything we love, gadgets piss us off. So many times, I’ve held a product and thought to myself: “This would be perfect, if only…”

The fact is, even with countless generations and web forums full of fuming fans, companies still repeat numerous mistakes. Mistakes that feel like a slap to the face of hard-working gadgeteers everywhere. For this issue of The Futurist, I present a list of things that companies should do to make their gadget — any gadget — better.

DON’T REQUIRE SOFTWARE INSTALLATIONS

I recently came into possession of a Kodak digital picture frame. When I opened it up, I found the thing to be shiny, pretty, and loaded with a decent amount of on-board memory. Then I got to the installation instructions. One of the first steps: Install Kodak’sEasyShare software on my computer. Fine, I figure. Maybe it requires me to use its software package in order to load the frame up with photos. About 20 minutes of wasted life (and a few more megabytes) later, I realize that I could just as easily load up the picture frame by plugging it into my computer’s USB drive and simply dragging and dropping JPEGs onto the device. In fact, after about 15 minutes of tinkering around, I couldn’t even find a way to interface the included software with the frame.

Note to companies: It is annoying when you require us to install your bloated, system-slowing software in order to load up a gadget (Zune, anybody?). It is even more annoying when you tell us we need to install it when we don’t.

Let’s put it this way: There is no reason any free-floating mobile gadget should require you to use Windows.

DON’T GET SO HOT

My iPod is essentially a tiny computer. It is in use up to 10 hours per day. It is cool to the touch. Why then can’t anybody make a laptop that, even with a pair of fans furiously fighting the good fight, doesn’t heat up to thigh-charring degrees?

DON’T LOAD UP WITH CRAP

If I’ve paid a couple thousand dollars for a laptop, I find it somewhat insulting to open the thing up and find a couple dozen crapware programs begging me to upgrade out of trial status. The way some of the systems are loaded up, you’d think they were ad supported. But laptops are not network TV, and even if you can select exactly how large a hard drive you want and how many gigs of RAM you need, nowhere on the plethora of customization settings that greet you on manufacturers web site is there an option for acrapware-free computer (unless you go Mac, I suppose.)

As far as I’m concerned, crapware is theft. It is theft of hard drive space, it is theft of system resources, and it is theft of time.

New rule: If you show up as a trial on my computer, I will never, ever, ever buy your full version. Ever.

DON’T USE PROPRIETARY CORDS

I understand that you want me to pay $20 to you (and nobody else) if I lose my connecting cable. I can respect that. Unfortunately, all wires essentially look the same from 3 feet away, and there are lots of them in my house. Connect all the cords in my house and you could probably throw a lasso around the moon. Be nice, go standard.

DON’T USE POORLY TRANSLATED INSTRUCTION MANUALS

Asia has brought us lots and lots of great gadgets, and whenever we get a formerly-Asia-only device stateside, it is usually a treat. Unfortunately, some companies still haven’t learned that it’s helpful to have a native English speaker proofread your instruction manuals. Seriously, just hire a Northwestern student as an intern, pay him with college credit, and make sure your papers make sense. Please.

DON’T TRY TO SPIN POOR FEATURES AS A PLUS

How many times have you seen a company try to spin its reliance on AA batteries as a reason it is “Great for travelers!” I’d much rather carry a charge cord with me than a pile of AAs and a battery charger, and I’m sure you would too.


Seth Porges writes on future technology and its role in personal electronics for his column, The Futurist. It appears every Thursday and an archive of past columns is available here.

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