My Toaster Won’t Make Cookies!!

toaster.jpgWith every release of new technology a million so-called experts jump up and start shouting about all the things that are wrong with it. I’m as supportive of critical analysis as the next guy, but I’m also a strong proponent of “appropriate analysis.” Too often people attack new technology from the wrong direction. The iPhone and the UMPC are two great examples of this…

My Toaster Won’t Make Cookies!
Many of the complaints I hear about the iPhone and UMPC strike me as exactly this sort of argument. Let me present a fictional argument about toasters that exemplifies the flaw in so much of the talk about both UMPCs and iPhones.

Reviewer: “Toastmatic says they are releasing a new toaster…but it won’t make cookies!”
Toastmatic: “Well, no. It’s a toaster after all.”
Reviewer: “But no cookies? I just bought a toaster oven from Mastertoast and IT makes cookies!”
Toastmatic: “Well sure, but our toaster is for, well, making toast.”
Reviewer: “But the toaster has the technology necessary to make cookies. So why would you prevent users from making cookies by designing your toaster with vertical slots??”
Toastmatic: “Because 90% of our customers only WANT to make toast in their toaster. Vertical slots are easier to use when making toast. We found that if users want cookies they prefer the normal oven. As a result we’ve focused on providing a really excellent toaster. Plus by focusing on toast we have a device that makes toast with the push of a single button. If it made cookies we’d need lots of additional controls that would needlessly complicate it.”
Reviewer: “There you have it folks. A device that is doomed to fail. Toastmatic really missed the boat on this one. Fortunately I still have my Mastertoast toaster oven so I won’t have to go without cookies!”

The Moral of the Story
The UMPC is not meant to replace your desktop. It isn’t designed to replace the laptop of a heavy-use business person. The UMPC is an “at the coffee shop, around the house, email while watching TV, on the airplane, short business trip” device. Critiquing it from any other point of view is as silly as complaining that flashlights make a terrible lamps for the living room.

The iPhone is not meant to replace the business person’s blackberry or the hard core PDA user’s Windows Mobile Device. It is meant to offer “easy interface, internet checking, phone answering, music listening, fun video watching” functionality to a user base that doesn’t even know that the phone they have NOW lets them install software!

So, to the reviewers of the world, I implore you! Please look very carefully at the purpose of new technology before ranting about its failures. To do otherwise fails to serve your readers. Let them know how well new toasters makes toast, not how badly they fail when you put cookie dough in them.

9 thoughts on “My Toaster Won’t Make Cookies!!

  1. Doug

    Marc, I am probably one of the people you are talking about if you read my series on the UMPC over at Just Another Mobile Monday. One of the points I was making, though, was that I could not figure out what the ideal use was for the UMPC, who the market was fro this device. If you look at the desktop, there was a clear market…obviouslysince it was new. Then, people said we want to be able to take this with us…wallah, the laptop. Then they said, we need something small and light to use in place of a calendar. And they had what would ultimately become the Pocket PC.

    So, if the UMPC is not designed to knock of the Pocket PC or the laptop, then it must be designed to fit somewhere in the middle. I had a hard time figuring out what the role of a device between the two would be.

    Later UMPC’s (such as the OQO 2.0) seem to do a better job with this, but I am not even sure the UMPC makes toast right now.

    Just my two cents.


  2. Marc Post author

    And a good 2 cents at that. I think you may have struck upon MS’s biggest failing with the UMPC…telling people what it is for. The early (pre-release) Origami ads did a nice job of building an image but as soon as it came out (and changed to the clunky UMPC name) they dropped it all!

    As to “what is it for?” Well I think I may have found my next blog post! 🙂 Maybe it will help others to decide just what sort of “toast” it is meant to make!

  3. Ellen

    I do think there’s a disparity between the UMPC idea and its execution. I was pretty excited about having one, but pretty quickly got frustrated using it. But I’ll admit my tolerance for things that make me work differently than I’m used to isn’t very good, and my tolerance for anything that’s slower than I want is even worse.

  4. dgoldring

    I agree, Ellen (and I am not just saying that because I have my eye on the prize with your new contest).

    I had the exact same reaction when I got my review unit of the UMPC. It looks great. I had all kinds of expectations for what I wanted it to do, but in the end, while it was a neat toy,I really couldn’t find much of a practical use for it. Especially since the layout of the hardware made no sense.

    In my opinion, another one of their big mistakes was running Win XP tablet edition instead of making a new hybrid operating system. Anyway, I am excited to hopefully have a chance to look at the new OQO 2.0 soon. Maybe that will fix some of these problems.


  5. Taccy

    This is one of my annoyances with a lot of tech reviewers. I admit that they are under pressure to submit to a deadline, but they rarely take the time needed to consider the benefits to potential users outside of their own experience. This in itself is not the problem, but the dismissal of a device without further consideration.

    I use an alphasmart dana for a lot of work (great with listpro), and I would be the first to say that it is overpriced and underpowered with a poor screen. However, for all that it can turn on type and save text, or update a list quicker than other machine I know, yet it will usually be dismissed as old technology and disregarded without even considering the benefits that it may bring.
    To keep on thread, I can say that I could see a solid state UMPC fill the tasks of dana (if it has ‘instant on’ functionality) as it should allow quick input (if its one with a keyboard) and yet be easy to throw in a bag.

    Take a look at the studentmate:-
    This is on ugly sonofa, but I like the idea of an instant on device that can run common applications and last all day on a charge. This will be disregarded by most tech reviewers but could fulfill many user needs if they asked around (or may not, – it is the fact that a reviewers bias tends to prohibit them asking in the first place that I dislike). Is this a UMPC or is a PC nowadays only a computer that uses MS bloated code?

  6. Doug

    Taccy, you make a good point.

    I can tell you that I review a lot of software and hardware that I would not personally use. Not because I don’t like it, but it doesn’t fit my needs.

    When this occurs, I often try to consider not just my needs but more globally, the needs that this software or hardware was trying to fill. And I look at whether it accomplished that task. For example, I do not tend to use RSS readers on my PPC. I just tend to do this from my laptop. So, if I was going to review NewsBreak, I would not say this program is lousy because I do not need it (which isn’t true anyway). Instead, I would look at the purpose of RSS readers and the goals that they were trying to accomplish (namely making all of your news accessible for viewing on and off line). Does Newsbreak accomplish this in a reasonable manner? What are the benefits of Newsbreak over other programs that are similar? What features does Newsbreak have that stand out? That is how I look at a review.

    When it came to reviewing the UMPC, which I spent over a month evaluating, I simply could not answer the initial question of what market was this trying to appeal to? What need was this trying to fill? That was my problem with it. Not just that I didn’t like it or wouldn’t use it, but that I could not figure out a good use for it.


  7. Marc Post author

    I’m writing up my “What Good is a UMPC” article as we speak. I will definitely need to post it next week. 🙂

  8. David

    Well, I’m one of those so called (or self proclaimed) experts that has an opinion on the iPhone. (You can read it on my blog.)

    But to carry your toaster analogy further (and to the point): I would agree that the reviewer above is silly to expect a toaster to make cookies, unless the toaster in question is priced higher than any toaster oven available.

    In the case of the iPhone, it will be the highest priced phone currently sold in the USA with a two year commitment. What will the early adopters be saying when the iPhone Model II (or iPhone Nano) appears and they can’t buy one since they are locked into their Cingular (aka AT&T) contract for another 18 months? It’s a different market for Apple, and while the technology demonstrated is really cool, there are other factors involved that will make it interesting in the year ahead.

  9. Mark Polino

    For the iPhone, I think Dave is on the money but I would take it further. From the analogy, the iPhone reminds of “designer” appliances that are less functional but cost more money because they are pretty. They appeal to a certain demographic, but not for the masses.

    The crux of the iPhone argument is the price/feature trade off. At that price, the current buyers are businesses. They have the cash. But businesses want Blackberry/Treo functionality for their high prices, not pretty. I think that this is the disconnect for most people. The market segment that Apple is targeting has no track record of spending that much for a phone. It breaks new ground in the interface but it doesn’t let a user do anything that they can’t do today with 20 or 30 different available phones.

    To me, the UMPC has more potential than people are giving it credit for. And Yes, I use an original Q1 everyday as my main PC. Like the original iPod, very few people NEEDED an MP3 player. But it let them take more content to places they never would have before. Want to jog with 400 songs? Go for it.

    Many people don’t NEED a UMPC, but it lets me take everything into places I wouldn’t bring a normal laptop. It opens doors for a PC to walk through that can’t be opened with a laptop. If I’m talking to someone and they have a question, I can lookup the answer, and often email it to them, while we’re standing there talking. If the unit was bigger, I wouldn’t even have it with me. That’s really been key for me. 1 set of data, in 1 place, always with me. No syncing, no worries about compatibility, the same data in the same place, no matter where I’m working.

    But yes MS blew it with marketing and expectations. They should have kept the Origami name. It would have removed some of the UMPC device confusion.


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