Modern digital fabrication technology has made is easy for companies to throw a product together for not much money. But what about the hassle that starts when you get it home?
Last weekend, I was in Staples and saw this impulse buy bin, thrown together it seems, at the checkout line. If you don't recognize it, these are Google Chromecasts, seemingly in desperate need of a customer.
Won't you buy me? Please? I'm cheap.
I should say at the outset that I think this is a fairly nifty device. It doesn't cost a lot, and it should be a lot of fun to play with. I've toyed with grabbing one myself.
There were people in line in front of me, and none of them gave the bin a second glance. I don't think they even knew what it was. The packaging certainly doesn't help -- it doesn't even have an image of a TV on the front of the package.
Complexity vs. Price
When I think about a device like this, I know it will sell well in certain circles. However, I think a lot of people ignore such a device because the personal (not product) complexity and commitment factors are just too high for the price.
By that, I mean that the average homeowner only has so much time in life to commit to each digital device. We have cameras and smartphones and tablets and Blu-ray players and TVs, just to name a few that have to be managed. It's often difficult to keep track of the operational concepts (and software updates) of so many devices.
When we do make a commitment, it has to be considered. We look at the cash outlay, but we also look at the impact in our lives. How useful will this device be? Will it require us to set up an account? (Oh, geez! Again? Another username and password! Seriously?) Often, the very process of creating an account, the myriad of probing questions, raises alarm bells about our privacy. Suddenly the dirt cheap price doesn't seem like such deal.
Such a device can weigh us down. It's another device to manage. Our ability to afford technology exceeds the available time to manage it all. Plus, because the device is so small, we'll have to learn how to operate it remotely. Another hassle.
Image Credit: Google
And then there's the tendency for our moden digital gadgets to monitor our activities. We have the sneaking suspicion that the device is watching us as much as we watch it. Now we know why it's so cheap. It's subsidized by the value of the information it collects about us.
Finally, while Google is a large and capable tech company, it doesn't have the hardware legacy that Apple does. Nor does it have the considerable infrastructure that Apple has built over many years. While Google is trying to quickly build an infrastructure around its hardware with Google Play, and while many Android fans appreciate that, the average consumer knows a lot about Apple's iPods and iTunes and Macs and its legacy as a hardware company. They don't know a lot about Google, except for search -- or why they should buy one of these inexpensive little gadgets that potentially creates so much indirect hassle once it gets home.
Even so, sales numbers for the Chromecast seem good. I think a lot of technically minded people will enjoy using it, and I may yet grab one for myself.
The 10,000 Meter View
The bigger picture in my mind, however, is that these cheap little digital devices can turn into a considerable burden all out of proportion to their price. I suspect this factor influences Apple's thinking about the price of its products. When the hassle factor is low and the price is that of a premium product, we know we'll be focusing on how it serves us. We're going to use it because of the commitment we made via what we paid.
This is a subtle thing that Apple brings to the market with its attention to a modest number of premium products that we trust to make our life better rather than embroil us in technical fussing.
It's no wonder these Chomecasts were thrown into a bin by Staples, hoping that the lure of the price would seduce the customer. It's a strategy very different from the Apple stores where a friendly salesperson can convey the value of that pricey product sitting on those beautiful wooden tables.
Then, it's easy to close the deal with the modern technical customer.