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Users going feral: More behaviors that translate into products you can sell

-August 23, 2013

Last time, I began a list of recent observations I'd made of how non-techie acquaintances, friends, and family members used (and abused, and didn't use) technology, versus us "bleeding-edge" folks. As I wrote then:

"Sometimes this contrast is suggestive of an untapped market opportunity that I'd suggest you in the product definition and development worlds might want to pay attention to. Other times, my suggestions are more along the lines of "don't overlook this use-and-abuse, even if you'd never personally consider doing it, because if your product breaks as a result, you're the one who'll get blamed."

Here are a few more to add to (and wrap up, at least for now) the list:

The Xbox 360 that I mentioned last time my friends had availed themselves of was located in a small home theater cabinet. Whenever I'd used the console, I'd made sure to keep the cabinet glass doors open in order to assist in heat evacuation. When they used it, perhaps predictably, the doors were closed, even though I could clearly hear the system fan screaming away at full speed even through the glass. More generally, I've seen game consoles, audio amplifiers and A/V receivers, and other similar heat-generating systems cooped up in airtight compartments, sitting directly on top of thick shag carpeting, etc. Microsoft seemingly under-designed the RROD-prone first-generation Xbox 360 in this regard, no matter that it probably helped enable the company to beat Sony and its PlayStation 3 to market by a year. It's interesting to see the degree that the company has learned its lesson, designing the Xbox One for ten years' worth of continuous operation. So:
  • Design your systems to generate as little heat as possible, and
  • Don't assume they'll have adequate (or any) ambient ventilation. In summary,
  • Be like the Microsoft of today, not the Microsoft of a near-decade ago.
I'm absolutely enthralled with the Time Machine backup facility built into Mac OS X since v10.5 "Leopard," particularly since it's supported by my NETGEAR ReadyNAS network storage device and I therefore don't even need to remember to USB-tether external drives to my systems in order to kick off backup cycles. Time Machine has "saved my bacon" any number of times, to resurrect files I'd unwisely or inadvertently deleted, to recover from hard drive failures, or to migrate my user profile from one machine to another. Similarly, I use Genie Timeline to back up my various Windows builds to a separate SMB partition on that same NAS. And in both operating system cases, I'm generally careful to make sure that a periodic backup cycle has completed before I put a machine (or a virtual machine) to sleep. But I've admittedly occasionally forgotten and shut the lid on my laptop while the Time Machine icon in the menu bar is still spinning. And I've observed others who are completely oblivious to whether or not a backup session is active when they suspend (or shut down) their systems. So:
  • Make sure that your backup strategy can gracefully recover from premature termination.
Speaking of NAS, a recent conversation with a friend was enlightening. She offhandedly remarked that "my camera's memory card is almost full ... time for another one." Further questioning by me revealed her image archive strategy; when a SD card filled up, she tossed it in a shoebox (literally) and bought another. On the one hand, I suppose it's a good thing that she was relying on semiconductor storage versus moving the photos and videos to her computer's hard drive, because she didn't have any sort of HDD backup strategy. Here, I thought, was a perfect opportunity for a RAID 1-based (to account for inevitable HDD failure) NAS; she and her family could put all the photos in a single location, where they could be easily database-indexed and accessed by multiple LAN-located devices. Most folks, I continue to believe, don't even grok the concept of a consumer network storage device, far from comprehending its myriad benefits. Once they're exposed to such a product, on the other hand, they quickly realize that they can't live without it ... thereby suggesting a lucrative and still largely untapped market opportunity.

And speaking of servers, I'll close with another largely untapped market opportunity. I've got several printers set up at my girlfriend's house: a laser printer connected to an external Wi-Fi print server, and an inkjet MFC with built-in wireless print server capabilities. I recently added a large format inkjet printer to the mix, and pointed out to her that since it had no integrated print server capabilities (nor did I have a spare print server lying around), she'd need to USB-tether her laptops to it in order to print to it. Her disappointment was palatable, even though prior to me entering her life, USB tethering had been the sole means by which she'd consistently printed. As computing becomes increasingly mobile versus desktop-tethered, the ability to print from anywhere on the LAN (or, via router firewall hole, WAN) is (in her words) "liberating." And with computing expanding beyond conventional form factors to smartphones and tablets, native support for beyond-IPP protocols such as AirPrint and Google Cloud Print is becoming increasingly essential, as well. So:
  • Build robust print server support into your future printers, no matter what price point they might inhabit, and
  • Don't discount the large installed base of print server-less printers already in consumers' homes and office, for which robust-featured and cost-effective external print servers will be increasingly welcomed.
Do you have any thoughts on the topics I've raised in this two-part series? Or have you come up with any additional consumer-usage observations that would impact your fellow readers' product definitions and designs? Sound off in the comments section; I look forward to reading your posts.

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