How to avoid the hype train for new products

Whenever a consumer product of any significance launches, there is a huge media frenzy.  It receives a lot of media attention, then reviews. Commentators either praise or attack it, and forums light up. This phenomenon can be seen in computer parts, consumer electronics, clothing, automobiles, food, and all manner of consumer products.

There are even websites that dedicate large segments of their content towards leaks to garner page views. They know that there is a huge audience of people that are awaiting news of their beloved product and are eager to gobble anything up. Many leaks for that reason are completely made up, often by unscrupulous sources to try to gain as many page views as possible. It has made me skeptical about hype. There are a few websites in the technology industry that I have I have lost all trust for, due to their tabloid-like reporting. In many ways, product reporting does resemble tabloids, although there are also some good people in the media who are quite knowledgeable. It can be difficult at first to identify the people who are scrupulous and knowledgeable. That is where your critical thinking skills must come into play. When unsure, it can also help to also ask runarounds in forums.

Manufacturers build on this hype. They realize that even negative coverage is better than no coverage. It does resemble politics in many ways, where a less well known politician (say for example, Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential run) receives a lot less coverage at first, hurting their chances. I would dispute the study’s conclusion that Sanders coverage was positive (I’d argue that amongst mainstream media sources, it was actually extremely negative, which has in many cases, destroyed my trust in many mainstream sources due to their clear bias), but the point is that coverage is always better than no coverage. Manufacturers know this. Only a handful of truly iconic products, like the iPhone don’t need to build up hype. Most other products need that coverage in order to get their name known and to build up excitement for their launch.

By Olga Tarkovskiy https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hype-Cycle-General.png

The Hype Cycle This is a subjective way of categorizing how products are launched, based on how products have historically gone through. It is technically based on emerging technologies, but the way new products (particularly ones that are claimed to be major advancements) is almost identical. Credit: Olga Tarkovskiy

The Launch

Then the product launches. In reality, a product that has built up a ton of hype can never live up to everyone’s lofty expectations and there are bound to be disappointments, although some products are far more underwhelming than the hype than others of course.

The reality is that every product that launches is going to have flaws. The more complex the product is, the more potential there is for something to go wrong.  The reality is that early perceptions matter. Whether a product launches and later fixes the problem that receives a lot of negative attention. That can hurt perceptions for future generations of products as well, even if the consumer never experiences the problem or if the issue has long been resolved.

An example might be Hitachi Deathstar, a hard drive which became notorious for its high failure rates. Since then, there have been independent tests which suggest that Hitachi is actually the most reliable hard drive manufacturer, but if you were to visit any technology forums, there would still be jokes about the Deathstar. Another example may be the GPU company, AMD’s drivers. Drivers are often a “Your mileage may vary” sort of experience, but there are times that many people experience widespread issues. I have found that recently, I have had decent experiences with AMD’s drivers and AMD has put a lot of effort into improving their graphics drivers.

It can be very difficult for a company to turn its reputation around. AnandTech, in 2015 when they visited OCZ Technology’s manufacturing plants noted that:

All in all, the new OCZ is well aware of its questionable quality reputation from the past and is now doing everything it can to build the trust back. It won’t happen overnight, but opening up the whole development and manufacturing process is a way of showing that OCZ has nothing to hide when it comes to quality.

OCZ was (before filing for bankruptcy and being bought out by Toshiba) a company that acquired a bad reputation in the technology sector for its unreliable Solid State Drives.

Why are there bad products? Why do reviewers miss them?

Why would a company choose to make a bad product or launch it? The damage to a company can be immense in terms of not just short-term sales, but also long-term reputation, which can lead to reduced revenues down the line.

They may feel compelled to do so for deadline reasons or because they need the money. They just need the cash flow after spending so much on developing a product, distributing it, marketing it, and other associated costs.

A big part of the problem is that many companies do not invest as much resources as they should into Quality Assurance, testing, and quality control. Another may be that a company simply may not have the money to test the product, which is especially a problem for start-up companies that don’t have the funds to do it. For those with the funds, but who choose not to engage in quality control and testing, I tend to be extremely harsh in my judgement. The bean counters won, but their “victory” may have damaged the product or brand’s long-term reputation for some ill-gotten short-term profits.

Finally, it can often be hard to find every single bug, due to the sheer complexity of a product. It takes a certain sample size before every bug can be found. The newer technology, the less is known about it, which makes it hard to resolve all of the issues.

Why do reviewers miss this?

That explains why companies launch them, but why do reviewers miss these flaws? Is it not their job to find them? It can be difficult at first to find those flaws. Why does this happen?

  • Time: One reason why is because the product reviewers have only a limited time to publish their reviews after the launch. Reviewing a product can be an exhausting thing to do. Those 20+ page reviews that you read, the ones that are truly engaging, wroth reading, and in depth, take a lot of time. Inevitably, something has to be cut out even with lengthy reviews and due to time constraints. Plus the reviewer is not a long-term owner. They merely review the product and apart from the few products they use daily, are on to the next big product.
  • Conflict of interest: Reviewers have a vested interest in not calling out all bad products. Imagine a manufacturer that made mostly terrible products, but relied heavily on marketing and hype to survive. I know of a few that do this. I will not name them here, but the point is that the reviewer has a vested interest in not calling them out because they could lose advertising revenue.
  • Skill: A big problem with researching a product is that you do not always know the level of technical skill that a reviewer actually has in many cases. This is the classic Dunning Kruger effect at work. They do not know what to look for in a good product! This may be because they are enthusiasts, but lack technical knowledge, because the company that publishes did not want to spend the money/time to hire a more qualified reviewer, or perhaps the reviewer just knows less than they think they do. Regardless, it is best to ask in a forum with experienced users what their thoughts are.

Many of these issues, especially if they are software bugs, can later be corrected. The trough is when the flaws, software bugs, and other drawbacks of products are realized. It is a moment when you go, “oh – this product is not as good as it seems”.

So why does this matter to me?

What are the consequences to buying a bad product that received good reviews? You and I both want to avoid spending huge amounts of money on products that may have received a lot of positive reviews, but are actually quite poor in quality.

Not only does it cost a lot of money, it can be a huge waste of time and is mentally frustrating. It makes us feel a lot more miserable about ourselves. We also feel a lot miserable about our lives, because we spent our hard earned money and time on a product that was disappointing. It also makes us more distrustful of other people outside of the Internet. Bad internet experiences can affect us in real life. We remember bad experiences more than we remember good ones.

Clearly, we need to do the best we can to avoid buying bad products. In general, the higher the consequences of a bad product (ex: time, money, or mental energy lost), the more you should invest your time to research said product.

The way forward

I think that the way forward may be to come to terms with the idea that there will always be products that are far from perfect. I would advise a series of steps:

  1. Recognize that hype is just that, hype and build a solid sense of skepticism around the hype.
  2. Acknowledge that every product will have flaws. The newer the technology and the more complex, the more likely there will be flaws.
  3. Look at a company’s past record and see their record in trying to address issues. Also consider their reputation for honouring warranties and providing support. Reward companies that treat their customers well.
  4. If you want a good experience, do not be an early adopter. Wait and see a while before picking up a product.
  5. Go to forums and determine who the people who have a high degree of knowledge are. In any forum, a small percentage of users are responsible for a disproportionate percentage of the good posts. Ask them about their experiences.

 

For me, an example would be the launch of Intel’s Skylake Z170 platform in Q3 of 2015. When the platform launched, I knew that the single threaded performance would only improve by single digits. I also knew that the ability of the processor to overclock (important for any computer enthusiast) would be hampered by Intel’s 14nm process and that clockspeeds were unlikely to be as good as the previous generation. When the product launched, I had a whole different mentality. My questions were, what was the theoretical performance versus what kind of performance were people getting in reality? Manufacturers sometimes hand “cherry picked” samples to reviewers, so as an end user, one must be extremely skeptical.

When I looked at motherboards, my first question was the hardware presented and then my second question revolved around BIOS quality. A huge part of a computer experience would be BIOS stability. Like any product, it takes months to fix all of the bugs, and that’s assuming a product’s flaws are fixed. For a new motherboard, it takes months for the BIOS to mature and stabilize. I searched around to see which motherboards had an unstable BIOS. I never upgraded to Skylake myself (I purchased the X99 platform, or Intel’s flagship of the previous generation), but the important thing is the mindset.  The reason why was because I carefully weighed by options and was able to come to an educated decision.

Also, keep in mind that when buying used or older products, consider the product in the state it is in when you buy it. For example, if a product launched with serious software bugs, but they have been fixed by the time you have bought it, factor that into your considerations.

 

This purchase of mine was an example, but it is how you should proceed. Although there will be the occasional lemon that will slip through, you can minimize your time and frustration with your purchases.

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