I’ve spent a lot of time over the years with hardware vendors and software publishers, thrashing through ideas about what customers really want. No matter how cynical we get when a new product comes to market with painful lapses, vendors really do try hard to anticipate and accommodate even our most eccentric needs and wants.
Sometimes, though, conventional thinking produces depressingly conventional results. New products land on our desks boasting answers to questions we’ve never asked and features at odds with our real needs.
This was brought home forcefully for me last week, when I was discussing product-support plans with a product manager at a vendor about to introduce a hot new laptop.
Once users come to rely on a lap machine, they really rely on it — so getting a broken laptop fixed quickly is a big issue.
(If you doubt that, just ask Toshiba: After years of building a superb reputation for fast, reliable computer repairs service, Toshiba late last year saw that reputation collapse, when parts shortages threw them months behind on repair work.)
The product manager broke into a big grin when I brought up the issue of repair service for the new laptop. No problem: They were going to offer as a premium-priced option a machine-swap program, under which they’d ship the owner of a broken machine a loaner even before the defective one was returned.
A wonderful idea, I responded — at first blush. But about three years out of date.
He was floored. Was I kidding? They were very proud of this one. It was a state-of-the-art idea; it was a new level of commitment; it was . . . obsolete.
Because hard disks are now commonplace on laptops — and his machine comes only with a hard disk — the offer of a loaner when a PC breaks isn’t very practical anymore. In virtually every case, the data, and maybe the programs the owner of that broken computer needs, are found only on the hard disk in the broken machine.
What users really need is fast turnaround service, not a loaner that has neither the owner’s programs nor data.
Loaner PCs, especially loaner lap machines, are an idea whose time has passed.