Thursday 19 March 2009

The techie consumer

The biggest purchasers consumer usually make are houses and cars. They are the ones where the amounts of money concerned are often staggering and may involve commitments of several years, if not decades.

Scarily we often hear of consumers who treat these commitments with the same level of seriousness as the purchase of a cellphone or a DVD player. It’s scary because the consequences of getting these purchases wrong, of choosing the wrong lender or vehicle, of selection the wrong payment plan can easily cost you tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Pula.

Then there are the purchases in the middle range that, while they won’t bankrupt you if you make the wrong selection they’ll certainly hurt.

Things like personal computers and top-of-the-range cellphones can hurt like hell if you get them wrong. These are areas where it is reckless not to do the research before you part with your money. There’s also no excuse for not doing the research. These days anyone who is considering buying a PC or a clever cellphone is the sort of person who already has access to the Internet. All you have to do is go to Google, enter the name of the device you are considering along with the word “review” and you’ll almost certainly find a host of online reviews by a mixture of experts and amateurs.

For instance if you are considering buying the Apple iPhone that Orange are offering you should search for “iPhone review” and your search will come back with over 100 million hits. I’m not suggesting you read them all but the first few will be a mine of information.

Make your search a little bit more refined and you’ll uncover some of the really important information you need to know. Search for “iPhone problems” and you’ll find a mere 30 million hits. Of course some of these might be web site sites that say something like “the iPhone had no problems” but it’s more likely that the majority of the hits will express the concerns you need to know about.

Of course, you might decide that these problems aren’t relevant to you. Maybe they refer to features that you don’t care about or conditions you’ll never experience but you might find out something you really need to know.

I wrote about the Apple iPhone some weeks ago and expressed concern about the failure of Orange to explain some of the problems with this admittedly marvellous device. Like the fact that you can’t forward a text message. It’s not the end of the world but it’s probably something we’ve all done. Like the fact that although it has Bluetooth, a common cellphone and computer technology that allows you to connect to other devices, the Bluetooth on the iPhone has been enormously restricted. You can’t swap contacts or photos using Bluetooth on an iPhone.

You can’t even copy and paste things on an iPhone. Yes, you read that right. You can’t copy a fascinating quote or a joke from an email and paste it into another email or text message. I know it’s unreal, I know that we’ve been copying and pasting text on computers and even smart phones for decades, it’s just unreal that the iPhone can’t or won’t do such a thing.

Then there is the truly surreal thing. Anyone who surfs the web will have come across web sites with Flash videos. This has become the standard way of showing video clips online. Sites like YouTube are Flash-based. Even our web site has flash videos built in.

But the iPhone, while it can surf the web very well indeed, can’t show Flash videos. The hilarious irony is that if you visit the Orange Botswana web site using an iPhone and you visit their page on the iPhone itself, you can’t see the Flash videos concerning the very phone you’re using to visit the site. Utterly bizarre.

If you visit the site using a device that CAN see Flash video you’ll see that the video clips say how you can use the GPS facility and Google Maps to find “a cup of coffee or a particular address”. Very nice, except if you are using it in Botswana. It works perfectly in Europe and the USA, just not here. Yes, you can see a satellite image of your house but you can’t see road names and details of the things they suggest you can find. This is despite the video saying that “Google Maps on the iPhone is amazing” and “Google Maps and iPhone deliver”. In Botswana they deliver little more than irritation.

This isn’t an attack on the iPhone, which is the coolest, sexiest cellphone ever seen. It’s just deeply flawed and before you buy one you should do some research. If the shortcomings of this phone don’t bother you then you’ll enjoy it hugely. If however it can’t do things you need then you’ll need to look elsewhere.

If anything this is an attack on suppliers who fail to give their potential customers the full truth in their marketing. Orange run the risk of letting down their customers by not giving them the full facts on a product and, when they are contacted for support after the sale, having no idea how the thing actually works.

The lesson is to do your homework and make informed decisions, not ones that are led by fancy marketing alone.

This week’s stars
  • Vicky from SAA Express at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport for friendly service when things went wrong.

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