Good Devices Gone Bad

(This entry itself had problems after posting and it took a day to fix. A good entry gone bad.)

My sister, Doreen, who is seldom on the bleeding edge of technology, bought a Kindle in January and by March she was sending it back.

My Kindle was a clunker. I LOVED it and had about 15 books on it when it finally died. The screen kept freezing and I had to reset it. They did a factory reset download but it didn’t help. Finally it would only turn on by the reset button on back. UPS is delivering a new one today so that’s good news….they are replacing buggy ones. I still think it is great even though I got a first generation dud.

With my iPhone, I’ve had three replacements, meaning I’m on my fourth phone in six months. I like the iPhone just fine. I don’t like that it breaks down and there’s not much I can do about it, except get a replacement. The first one had a problem with audio. I wasn’t getting stereo out the headphones. So it worked as phone, but not an iPod. I sent that phone to Texas and got a replacement but then they sent me a “new” phone instead of fixing the one I sent them. That phone worked fine until the January 1.1.3 update caused it to shutdown automatically when it was not in the cradle. I took that one back to the Apple Store and got a “new” one. I got home, opened the box and this phone, probably a re-conditioned one, mis-behaved badly, as shown in the picture below taken from a video I made of the wacky behavior.

iphone broken

I had to take the iPhone back again and get another “new” one.

I can’t guess what it must cost companies to service and replace these devices. Early adopters know this experience well. Too often, what we’re adopting is a problem child. One of the biggest frustrations is just convincing the company that there’s a problem. The support person is often less knowledgeable than you are. You have to go through their script, trying resets and reboots that you’ve already tried just so they can check off that it was done. When I took my iPhone into the Apple Store and waited my turn to talk to an impatient “guru”, I was worried that the problem might be erratic and irregular and not show itself at the appointed time. That’s why I took a short video of the screen flashing in crazy ways. Please believe me when I say it’s not working.

Is the true cost of manufacturing much higher than companies think? Is this the tradeoff for manufacturing in China? Low prices, fast turnaround and lots of flaws. I don’t mean to blame China. My guess is that designers of products are too distant from the manufacturing process and too hands-off. They design to add features, not to improve the process to prevent failures.

There’s an opportunity to take a new look at manufacturing based on reliability and quality. Build products that are well-made and designed to last. Make them easier to repair or make it possible for others to fix them locally. Take seriously the environmental impact of all our throwaway technology.


On Sunday, several of us from the Maker Faire team met at ACCRC in Berkeley. ACCRC opened its doors to makers, allowing them to go through heaps of dead devices and see what can be salvaged for Make Play Day or personal projects. We had about 40 makers show up and they were literally like kids in a candy store. Tim Anderson had to make several trips with a handcart to his car.

James Burgett of ACCRC had on display the skull of junked electronics. He could send text messages to it and it would speak the words, reminding me of the Wizard of Oz. I plan to put the skull near the entrance of Maker Faire so you can play the Wizard.
Bad devices doing good again?


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