Number Based Consumerism

Number based consumerism is when a consumer bases their buying habits on one or more numbers typically part of a products specifications. You likely see this all the time, and perhaps even have been guilty of it yourself. It’s most prevalent in technology though it exists in other sectors.

Continue reading

Luxury Markup

Audioholics has a must read review of the $3,500 Lexicon BD-30 Blu-Ray player.

What did they find? It’s actually the $500 OPPO BDP-83 inside a new case. Literally. They put the entire chassis inside, not just the components. Then they did some audio measurements and found they also matched. Not just close but identical.

The Lexicon BD-30 is THX certified while the OPPO BDP-83 is not, however THX certification requires paying licensing which OPPO Digital declined to do. People who bought an OPPO BDP-83 apparently got a THX worthy system for a fraction of the price though Audioholics deputes if the device is totally up to par.

This reminds me of the $500 ethernet cable. Or Gizmodo’s case against Monster Cable.

Lots of people assume a higher price tag equals better quality. That’s often not the case.

[Hat tip: The Consumerist]

Making Products Easy To Repair

Lately consumer protection and financial laws seem to be a favorite of politicians who want to help the American people “keep their hard earned money”, er whatever slogan it is they go with these days. For a long time I’ve been of the feeling that they are overlooking the obvious. Making things easier to fix, hence longer lasting. Sames money, and helps the environment. How’s that for killer legislation?

Most household items are surprisingly simple to repair. Thanks to automation at the factory, everything has been pretty much broken down to LEGOs in complexity. Simple modules that are interconnected to form products. This technique also allows them to use the parts in multiple models hence lower cost of production. But every so often one part breaks rendering the product to be a giant paperweight. From home appliances to your computer, it really doesn’t matter what the product does.

What’s really needed is easier access to parts. Every manufacturer’s policies vary, but in many cases it’s extremely difficult to find parts. When you do your often paying hundreds of times what that tiny piece of plastic is really worth. Of course it’s still sometimes cheaper than replacing the product, but not by a huge margin.

This should really be law:

  • Standard Screws – Products should be assembled using standard screws. No more proprietary heads. In situations where a screwless design is used (iPod for example) explanation of how to open should be available.
  • Parts breakdown – Every product should either include on paper, or upon request from manufacturer a list of all parts in the product with part number.
  • Easy Access To Parts – Replacement parts should be available at cost + 10-15% + shipping & handling. Keep them affordable and easy to order. It should be either through the manufacturer directly or via an authorized agent, via phone or online. Parts should be available for a minimum 3 years after the last warranty expires for home electronics. Home appliances should be longer, I’d say 10 years. If the manufacturer provides repairs themselves or service parts to authorized technicians the parts should be available for as long as they are to service centers, whatever is longer.
  • Warranty Disclaimer – Should state what are “user serviceable parts” and can be replaced within warranty, and that anything else will void the warranty (it’s your problem not theirs).
  • Hazards Warning – Should warn of any obvious and non-obvious hazards within the device, such as capacitors that can contain high voltage even when unplugged (yes, newbie, it common, and I’m sure it hurts if you make that mistake), chemicals, or sharp objects. Ideally devices would color code such hazardous parts, and perhaps things that need to be disposed of specially such as batteries.

By making things easier to repair, this would ensure that people can conserve money by not replacing products because of one small problem. This would also be a major environmental win because people can conserve and avoid filling landfills with mostly working products. This is especially true for electronics.

LCD AssemblySo far the only one who seems to come close to meeting my guidelines is IBM/Lenovo. They make it very easy to order replacement parts (though it’s hard to find the page). They also have excellent diagrams of the whole product exploded so you know exactly how it goes together. This makes owning a IBM/Lenovo product a lot cheaper since you can just order the replacement part as needed. If your under warranty they seem to have no problem shipping replacement parts if your comfortable installing and don’t want to ship your laptop out for repairs (which sucks, trust me).

A close second is LG. I’ve ordered replacement cell phone parts a few times. No diagrams or assistance from them, but their parts # is very helpful in identifying the actual part every single time. Just give the model number and explain the part. Required overnight shipping which added significantly to the cost, but overall not a bad deal.

NordicTrack isn’t bad either. I was able to order a replacement controller and turn a seemingly dead-as-a-doornail treadmill into a perfectly working treadmill in a matter of minutes. Nice diagrams on paper, and online ordering process was pretty painless. That simple replacement saved significant cash and kept a heavy treadmill out of a landfill. Price of parts weren’t too bad either.

For those who suggest eBay, that’s really a last resort. Your essentially buying salvaged parts of unknown quality or origin. If you treat your stuff well, why put in some part that’s likely been tortured by a previous owner to the point where the product was sent to salvage? Low cost replacement parts are the way to go. Also prevents bogus counterfeits, buying damaged goods.

That would go a long way to helping people save some cash, give companies a new revenue model (10-15% above cost is a pretty nice margin), and help the environment all in one sweep. Some companies are already much closer to fully complying with this list than others. That just proves to me that this is a reasonable proposal. It’s insane to replace something because of one small piece.

Image From Lenovo

Confessions?

I’ve seen a few of these types of blog posts before. This one being “7 Confessions of a Cingular Sales Rep“. Overall it’s a good read, but it has me wondering. Are these legitimate “confessions”? Or Lonelygirl15 reincarnated?

There was an underlying message in that confession: If you buy more, we’ll be nicer to you. So please buy accessories.

I’m not calling it a hoax, but I do have to admit I’m cautious when reading these. I’ve seen them on several sites before. Either way it’s worth a read, and likely mostly accurate. But I can’t help but wonder if they are really as genuine as they sound. Many legitimate organizations have fallen victims to hoaxes before.

Just remember: Not many things on the Internet are what they seem. All that is printed is not fact. The barrier to entry isn’t high.

Browser Tax?

We all know Tax season is here (in the US). So don’t forget to file. We also know there is a Microsoft Tax (you know, the price of the pre-installed copy of Windows on your soon to be Linux PC), and it is possible to get it refunded. New this year is a browser tax, as seen on Digg.

Want to know how much you’ll be paying? There is a formula, but I’ve got a cheat-sheet to help you out. Simply find your browser/platform and look at the filing price. Click to see the full screen and get all pricing. I did this myself between 6:40 and 7:00 PM EST today. Took a little while to crop and get it all together. Yes they are real. No photoshopping done. Note that free filing is offered in certain cases and not in others (which I presume is the offering as part of the free filing program).

Want to get the biggest deduction on filing your taxes with TurboTax? Just look below for the best deal.

For more great financial tips keep an eye on this blog. Next time we’ll talk about how my 401(k) is also incompatible with my browser, and since I used the contact form to mention the bug, it now warns me on every visit.

I’d love to hear Intuit’s explanation of why they are serving different products to certain browsers, and why they are charing different prices in some cases. Amazon tried something like this based on user profiles a few years ago, and it caused some trouble. You can find some information on that by searching Google for amazon price fixing.

Is it legal to make the Free filing option less visible to some users? Hard to say. There is an agreement with the IRS in place that facilitates all that. Didn’t see much about promotion or hiding the offering.

Images in various browsers/platforms can be found below on this post.
Continue reading

SOX Tax for Upgrades?

A very interesting piece by iLounge is creating a little buzz today. Hopefully in the next few weeks it will become clear if this is really true, or just FUD. Given my development background, and business education (especially going to school post-Enron) this was particularly interesting.

Most software and hardware products these days are updated after release through software updates to enable features that either weren’t reliable enough to be turned on when released, or weren’t possible (waiting for standardization, licensing, testing, certification, etc.). It’s not at all uncommon.

It’s no secret Apple has been shipping computers for several months with 802.11g/n cards, but calling them 802.11g. Presumably all it takes is a firmware upgrade, and it’s ready to go. Now it appears that because of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) [pdf], they are required to charge a small fee to enable the feature because:

…supposedly prohibits Apple from giving away an unadvertised new feature for one of its products.

The logic in a way makes sense, but this raises a lot of business ethics. If an update enables added security (such as changing a default in a software firewall), does the software developer need to charge an upgrade fee according to US law? What about when Microsoft added support for WPA2? Presumably at least some of the buts utilized were in Windows prior to that update.

Here is an even more twisted example: Starting this spring with the new Energy Policy Act of 2005 in effect. Daylight Savings Time has changed. It starts earlier and ends later. For accounting and legal purposes you must correctly date your records, for example in Quicken/Quickbooks, or even timestamp on email could also be important. Does Microsoft need to charge for this upgrade to comply with SOX? Remember, this patch isn’t a bug “fix” since nothing was “broken” (the functionality was correct). This patch adds support for the new Daylight Savings Time. Hence it’s technically a [boring] feature to an existing product (Windows). Just like enabling 802.11n.

But what about Nintendo Wii or Playstation III which will presumably be getting firmware updates along the way to enable new features. I’m pretty sure Sony would be bound by the same laws. Not sure about Nintendo since it’s traded on the Nikkei Stock Exchange.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. I hope the Apple lawyers messed things up here and really misinterpreted the law. Since this is pretty messed up. I have a good feeling we’ll be learning more about this in the upcoming weeks.

Update [01/19/2007]: It’s Apple speaks: It’s $1.99.

Update [01/20/2007]: It’s not SOX, it’s GAAP causing the issue. CNet discusses.

iPod Vending Machine

I find it hard to believe an iPod vending machine will ever take off. I see a few things wrong with this:

  1. I can’t imagine what the insurance must be when you have a vending machine with hundreds of dollars in iPod and iPod related gear in a giant box. I’m pretty sure it can’t be good.
  2. How many would be willing to spend that type of money like that? Return policy?

Just strange.

Firefox for only $37.95?

SiteAdvisor has an interesting article up on a scam where a site makes people pay to download Firefox. As much as $37.95!

I’ll let you all in on a little secret. For the next 30 x 6.022 x 1023 days, you can get Firefox completely FREE! No ads, no spyware, and no spam! Just download here.

What’s the catch? Enjoy the internet, and perhaps tell a friend ;-).

Ok, but seriously it’s pretty sad to see people scamming innocent internet users. Just remember when you tell people about Firefox, to give them an official url (getfirefox.com, mozilla.com, mozilla.org), and tell them it’s 100% free.