At this time of year, most of us think about the better people we'd like to be in the year ahead. So we resolve to do things like go to the gym more, study a foreign language, or be more charitable.
But what about tech companies? They need to make their own set of new year's resolutions so they can serve their customers better. Fortunately for them, I have 11 suggestions.
1. Don't beta test on mainstream consumers. As an early adopter, I love having the opportunity to test out new products before they're ready, so I don't blame Google for sending out the beta stage Cr-48 netbook. It's a trial program.
However, when Viewsonic rushed its G Tablet to major retailers like Staples, without noticing how sluggish the ugly Tap n' Tap UI was or Augen pushed its GenTouch 78 to Kmart with an unlicensed Google marketplace, both were forced to make major changes after mainstream consumers discovered serious issues. These are flaws manufacturers could have seen if they spent even 30 minutes with their own products.
Retailers also need to actually spend five minutes with a product before deciding to stock it. There's no way on earth Best Buy would carry a product with non-working or illegal software on it.
2. Give your products simple, distinct names. I railed about the worst ways to name a gadget in an earlier column, which you should check out. So I'll just say here that, if your product is named after one of the seven deadly sins (Envy, NV, etc), has multiple capital letters in the middle of a word (Entourage eDGe), uses the letter X or G in model numbers just to seem hip, you need to rethink what you're doing.
3. Make Windows apps touch-friendly. Microsoft should resolve to make Windows 7 more touch-friendly, and I've even provided 7 tips for them on how to so. Despite the current problems with Windows 7 on tablets, we expect plenty of companies to be selling Windows slates or at least convertible notebooks. So, if you're writing a Windows application, you need to keep touch in mind when designing your menus or icons. And I don't just mean web apps.
1. Don't trash-talk the competition. Just show us you can make a better gadget. 2010 has been the year of brash statements, from Steve Jobs claiming that 7-inch Android tablets are DOA to Nokia's Anssi Vanjoki comparing use of the OS to peeing in one's pants. More recently, Motorola said that the iPad was nothing more than a giant iPhone. But rather than dissing your successful competitors, you should just concentrate on why your product is better.
2. Provide helpful, comprehensive support. In our 2010 notebook tech support showdown, we learned that a lot of notebook vendors have been cutting corners on support by not just providing slower and less talented phone reps, but also by blatantly refusing to answer basic questions like "how do I adjust the power settings?" Some, like Lenovo, simply told us try Googling our questions.
When we did a similar study of the wireless carrier support, we found that reps were always willing to respond to our questions, but many of them provided wrong answers, like telling us that there's "no way" to improve battery life on an iPhone.
3. Place substance over style. This year we saw a lot of vendors use technologies that made their notebooks better looking, but harder to use. The infamous clickpad design, which makes the entire touchpad into one giant button is the best example of this (a new and improved version of this technology is on the way). Runners-up include smudge-prone lids, USB ports stuck behind plastic doors, and palmrests that exceed 100 degrees.
4. Respect your users' privacy. In 2010, large Internet companies took a lot of criticism for assuming that users wanted their private information to go public. Google ignited a large class action suit over its Buzz product when it decided to automatically post users' most frequent Gmail contacts to their public profiles. One woman even complained that her abusive, stalker ex-husband was using the service to keep tabs on her and her new boyfriend. Users should have to opt-in to displaying any personal information about themselves online; their consent should never be assumed.
5. Communicate within your own company. It's still amazing to me that you can have a large company where one division has no idea what the other is doing. If, for example, the Windows Phone 7 team and the KIN team had talked to each other, Microsoft might not have produced the year's biggest wireless flop. The company that integrates its different devices together will be the company that succeeds. So, we hope Google has its Android and Chrome OS people talking to each other.
6. Don't shortchange U.S. buyers. In 2011, there's little excuse for bringing some of your best products to market in Europe or Asia first while Americans can only read about them online. So when we saw that Lenovo was only selling its LePad phone in China, Samsung was saving some of its best ultraportables for Europe and Asia, and ASUS released its unique Eee Note tablet in Taiwan first, we were disappointed. This is a global economy where, the minute a product hits store shelves in Taipei, people are asking for it in Topeka.
7. Spend a little more to avoid looking cheap. Whether your gadget retails for $99 or $999, there's no excuse for shoddy build quality. And, when it comes to quality, little things like a flexing keyboard or a creaky backside mean a lot. Don't make your expensive notebook look cheap, just to save a few pennies on the trim or a spring in the card reader.
8. Don't restrict users from installing software or hardware. Under the false guise of protecting users from themselves, it seems like everyone in mobile tech is trying to stop users from making their own choices. Whether it's Apple tightly restricting what apps a user can install, Motorola trying to stop Droid X buyers from rooting their phones, or Google championing an entire OS that doesn't allow local software, everyone wants to stop me from modifying the gear that I bought and paid for. You don't have to help users root your device, but you need to get of their way.