Geeks: A Bright Future

4:35 PM -- Good piece on 60 Minutes yesterday about Geek Squad and all of those other technical support firms. Business is booming because (a) tech products are fundamentally difficult to use and (b) they are often rushed to market and are consequently full of bugs (or features, depending upon your point of view) -- regardless, they’re often tough to use. Watch most people try to enter names into the dialing directory on their cell phones and you’ll see what I mean. We are rapidly heading towards products that are inexpensive to acquire but very expensive to get working. Products are cheap, but people -- especially techies -- are now very, very expensive, and will likely remain so, even in India.

Can this problem be fixed? Yes, of course. Years ago, when I was working on supercomputers, I spent quite a bit of time with senior engineers at the car companies. They freely admitted that they put out crappy products in the 70s and 80s, and the reason for this was a lack of detail engineering -- the guys and girls on the line couldn’t build a quality product because the engineers hadn’t done their jobs. And this was because the beancounters running the companies hadn’t a clue about how to really run a business -- they were penny wise and pound foolish. OK, penny foolish too.

Too many tech products suffer from the same mentality today: Get it to market quickly, quality be damned. We’ll make it up by charging a lot for support. That is, until some bold firm puts the emphasis back on quality, sells no product before its time, and schedules software updates that honestly fix bugs without creating more of them. And, by the way, product manuals that actually describe what the product does aren’t the answer -- no one has time to read them. Products need to educate the user while being used. We have the technology, and the winners will have the will. My guess, though, is that few firms will make the investment because the beancounters are still in control.

BTW: It might seem like I’m watching a lot of TV lately. Actually, I don’t. Just major news programs and Boston Legal. Oh, and The Simpsons and Family Guy. But that’s it. Mostly.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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