Half-baked technology leaves bad taste in users’ mouths

Staying in a Toronto hotel a couple of months ago, I had a craving for a ginger ale. So I went out to the hallway vending machine.

It was the first soft-drink machine I’d seen that took only credit cards. Trouble was, it wouldn’t take my card. So I went down a floor, and there was an identical machine. It wouldn’t take my card either.

Down to the lobby. That machine wouldn’t take my card either – but fortunately, unlike the others, it accepted old-fashioned cash.

I got my ginger ale. I suppose the advantage of these machines is not having to clear change out of them. It doesn’t matter. The point is that the first time I ran into them, I had a bad experience.

My experience with wireless hotspots was similar. This was one of the few technology innovations I couldn’t wait to use. When the first hotspots appeared, I almost immediately got an add-on card for my notebook. The first one I tried worked well – but for the first couple of years, it was the exception. Many hotspots wouldn’t connect at all, others took up to 15 minutes to establish a connection. When I bought a new notebook, I found my old wireless card was partly to blame. More hotspots work now – but not all, and some hotels still have coverage gaps.

Both of these illustrate the dangers of introducing new technology before it’s ready. Those credit-card pop machines may or may not offer benefits, but I don’t really care if my drink doesn’t cost more and the thing works – and I think most people would feel the same. When it doesn’t work, though, I’m left distrusting the idea, and will probably avoid such machines in future. Ditto Wi-Fi. If the potential benefit weren’t so valuable, I’d probably have just given up, writing it off as just another technology that doesn’t live up to the hype. That would have been a pity, because when it works it’s remarkably useful.

In some respects I love Skype. I can talk to other Skype users free. I can even talk to non-users free, for now anyway. While travelling in the U.S. for a few days, I called home each night using SkypeOut, avoiding outrageous cellphone roaming charges that can amount to $100 on a three- or four-day trip. But my partner mostly noticed the transmission delays and uneven voice quality. Her reaction was, why would you use this?

Not-quite-ready-for-prime-time technology doesn’t help those who use it, and it’s hard to see how it helps those who bring it to market. Get potential customers to try your product, and then turn them off. Does that help your future?

For businesses, the impact goes beyond end users becoming cynical about the promises of new technology. Half-baked technology creates support headaches, and sometimes its failures cause more serious business problems. Yet new technologies continue coming to market before the bugs are worked out.

And the time-honoured law of technology still applies: never buy Release 1.0 of anything.

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