Horse Sense #124

You are the Most Important Feature

The technology industry offers up all kinds of specifications for the hardware and software you buy. Unfortunately, it often neglects the most important factors that *should* influence your buying decision and those factors may not appear on a specification sheet at all.

I avoided getting a cell phone for a long time after everyone else had one. People asked me, "But what if someone needs to get in touch with you and they cannot reach you on a land line?" My answer was simple: I would be unavailable anyway because I was doing something for someone else and should not be interrupted. My pregnant wife disagreed with that reasoning. It was important that she be able to interrupt me whenever she chose. To her, the key feature of a cell phone was its ability to get my immediate attention wherever I was. Of course, that does NOT work for her since she forgets to charge hers, forgets to turn the ringer on, leaves the phone somewhere, etc. No matter. This was me she was talking about. To this day I still have a cell phone and respond to her calls immediately. Yes, my clients are important, but I do not have to sleep in the car if I do not answer their call right away....

The "killer feature" of that cell phone was its ability to interrupt me and keep me sleeping indoors, right? Wrong. My wife wanted to be able to *communicate* with me. Reliable good quality sound is the key feature in a cell phone. If you cannot get good reception, or understand what is being said, or hear the nuances in someone's speech, then that cell phone is pretty worthless. As it turns out, one of the key features of your cell phone is not the cell phone itself, but your ability to get a good sounding call where you are. That means that it is critical that you get good reception in the places you are most likely to be. When we moved offices a few years ago, I found that my cell service would drop out all the time at the new office, even though it worked fine at my home and other places. I had to change carriers. So....while there are lots of specifications to go with fancy cell phones, like how fast the processor is and how many megapixels the camera has, you are unlikely to see any specifications as to how reliable the call will be and how good people will sound at your home and office.

A digital camera has all sorts of specifications. The "killer feature" compared to old film cameras, which does not appear on those specification sheets, is that you can take as many pictures as you want and only print and pay for the ones you really like. You can even look at and toss substandard pictures right away. If you are trying to choose between digital cameras, though, what should make your choice? The simple answer is that it needs to be able to take good pictures of the things you want to take pictures of. A smart phone might take pictures and have many specifications similar to a camera, but the big difference between a phone and a camera from a picture taking standpoint is that the lens on a phone is likely to be much smaller, to have more limited focusing, and to collect less light (not so good in darker environments). So, why are camera sales suffering because of competition from cell phones? Well....You cannot take a picture of something unless you have the camera there. You have to think about bringing a camera along. You tend to take your cell phone along by habit. And, though the picture you take with your cell phone may leave a lot to be desired, at least you can get a picture. Even a low quality picture is often better than none.

I like to go to computer shows where I can physically inspect merchandise and talk to the manufacturers. You can find out some surprising things. I try to handle a lot of the portable devices. A specification sheet will give you some salient facts, but it will not tell you some of the most important things you might need to know about a laptop. How does the screen look to you? If the screen is high resolution, that is nice. But is it too dim or is the print to small to read at that resolution? Is the picture muddy or does the screen have a lot of glare? I once bought a lower resolution laptop model over an almost identical higher resolution one. Not only did I save money, I was happier because the screen was brighter and easier to read. How does the keyboard feel? I passed on a number of laptops because the keyboards felt like I was typing on a tabletop or into Jell-O. How does the pointing device work? Is it conveniently placed, big enough, sensitive but not overly sensitive, etc? Nowhere on the specification sheets will you read about these most important features of a laptop. You, the human being, must use it. So, it has to look, feel, and work as well as it can for you. The screen, keyboard, and pointing system are key factors in how happy and productive you will be over the long run, but they do not show up well on a specification sheet.

We are inundated by a wealth of specifications in the technology industry. But, it often pays to step back and think about YOU. You are the most important part of the whole equation. You are buying tools to work for you. Make sure you pay attention to those things that make your technology useful.

As always, we are here to help our human clients work well with their technology. They need only call on us and ask us about the "killer features" they really need.

©2015 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse