Early-adopter shouldn’t mean beta-tester. The Jawbone UP saga is a great example of this: pushed out too soon, eagerly picked up by keen geeks, and now the subject of a huge refunds program that’s costly both financially for Jawbone and in terms of their all-important reputation. Yet do we bring some of this post-purchase misery upon ourselves – as consumers, enthusiasts, geeks – in prioritizing and praising so doggedly the very first to market? Manufacturers have learned we’ll gobble up what we’re given, rough edges and all.
Jawbone made its refund offer, giving eager customers their 100 bucks back and not even insisting that they return the band itself. It scores itself a point for that. Unfortunately it waited more than a month to react properly, rather than freezing sales within days of the first problems emerging, and more to the point it pushed out a gadget that you’d think even the briefest of quality control would have shown flawed. It loses a hundred points for that.
Software arguably has an easier go of things. There’s a case to be made that it’s better to get your product out there, in the wild, and then tweak out any bugs with timely software updates. The end result is a reluctance to bring anything out of beta, with that “it’s still in tests” excuse in hand to roll out should Bad Things Happen. Hardware, though, is a very different story. “Beta” is far harder to stomach when you’ve paid for the latest gadget and had it come up short.
Mac developer Matt Gemmell wrote recently about the low expectations of the PC industry: the manufacturers cobbling together mediocre hardware, the reviewers granting that hardware a pass, and consumers forgiving a multitude of sins because the price is so darn low. His reference point is, among others, Apple, though the Cupertino company has demonstrated how even a track record of polish can be flawed by a “beta” experiment.
Feedback on Siri has soured in several quarters, with the virtual personal assistant – or its limitations – seeing criticism for falling short of what users expect. Perhaps Apple set itself up for failure there, with particularly high standards meaning any beta has a lot to live up to, but either way you dress it there’s a sense that the product didn’t quite match up to the promise of the glossy adverts.
We have a right to expect products that have been tested, reviewed, re-tested and re-reviewed until they deliver what’s promised. However, we also have a responsibility for consistency: if we didn’t prioritize, with our purchases, the product that is rushed to market quickest, maybe we could expect manufacturers to be more considered and thorough with their quality control.
That’s a difficult thing to argue for among a group of eager geeks. I know that I certainly don’t enjoy waiting. The Verizon Galaxy Nexus “delay” – inasmuch as an undated product can be considered delayed, Verizon would no doubt like us to point out – is arguably a good example of the tense dynamic.
If the issue is to do with the 4G variant’s LTE implementation, isn’t it better to hold off from launching until that flaw has been polished out? Alternatively, you run the risk of encountering bugs like the volume issue on the HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus, only with 4G being such a headline feature Verizon, Google and Samsung would likely drown in a sea of negative wailing. Should your gizmo turn out to have a hardware flaw, not something that can be finessed with a software update, woe betide if you rushed it to market.
As reviewers – whether that means on a site like SlashGear, in customer feedback at stores like Amazon, or as the “nominated geek” among friends and family – we have a responsibility to not apologize for tech that falls short. Manufacturers and vendors, meanwhile, have to recognize that early-adopters are a hungry, impatient sort, and that sating our immediate desires with products can lead to headaches all round if they turn out to be underbaked. The high-speed tech treadmill has become an addiction, and it’s one that’s crying out for some common sense.