The awful truth about Feature Glut

Manufacturers load on features to sell product--whatever it is--phones, coffee makers, micro-wave ovens, or A/V receivers. Here's the deep, dark ugly truth: the features don't have to be useful, or even work as intended--their mere presence serves as a sa

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler." --Albert Einstein

Oh goody, you can watch YouTube on your iPhone, but what if you just want a phone? I tried to buy a phone that's just a phone, and wound up with a Samsung SCH-u540. Is it just me or do you think it's odd that a phone comes with a 151 page User Manual?

Manufacturers load on features to sell product--whatever it is--phones, coffee makers, micro-wave ovens, or A/V receivers. Here's the deep, dark ugly truth: the features don't have to be useful, or even work as intended--their mere presence serves as a sales tool. Once the dealer moves another unit, it's mission accomplished time. I wouldn't mind, but features overload inevitably makes products harder to use, even when you try to avoid them. Do your eyes glaze over when you read stuff like, "superior zone control with additional zone remote unit and zone multi-language OSD" or "X Curve Compensator," mine do. Does anybody ever use these things? When I've called the companies' product designers for help they rarely know how to use them either. Feature Glut is getting out of hand.

Yeah, user manuals can be pretty scary Steve Guttenberg

It's part of my job as an audio reviewer to evaluate the latest and greatest products, and I can't count how many times I've discovered really serious flaws in the implementation of feature sets, like the time an A/V receiver flat out refused to send any signal to my subwoofer. Funny, the receiver worked perfectly before I ran the auto setup, but afterwards my subwoofer stopped subwoofing. I reran the auto setup a few times before giving up, thinking I'd just dive into the manual speaker setup and turn the receiver's subwoofer output on again. Well, the geniuses that designed the receiver thwarted that move--once the auto setup was initiated--the manual setup menus were completely disabled. Or so it seemed, the brand's American importer was stymied, but after many calls and emails, the engineers back in Japan coughed up the secret factory reset codes, and my subwoofer was back in business. I'm a big shot reviewer, but what would the average customer do? Probably get good and frustrated dealing with the customer service idiots and live with it, or demand a refund.

Back in the stereo era a receiver was a simple thing. Hook up your turntable, cassette deck, a pair of big juicy speakers, and you were pretty much done. Nowadays there's so much more capability built into these things even tech savvy buyers sometimes struggle to play a movie or listen to the radio. You think I'm making this up? A couple of years ago a record producer friend of mine couldn't get any sound out of his home theater. He calls me whining "It worked fine yesterday, but I guess I pressed some button on the remote, and now I just have picture, but no sound." The guy's pretty smart, it's just that his home theater is just too damn complicated. I jumped on the subway, and when I arrived I found him reading a book, mumbling "This technology has never let me down." Turned out his A/V receiver was sending audio signals to Zone 2, but he didn't have any other "zone" but the room his system was in. There's got to be a better way.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments
Latest Galleries from CNET
A roomy range from LG (pictures)
This plain GE range has all of the essentials (pictures)
Sony's 'Interview' heard 'round the world (pictures)
Google Lunar XPrize: Testing Astrobotic's rover on the rocks (pictures)
CNET's 15 favorite How Tos of 2014
CNET's 15 most popular How Tos of 2014