It was a restful, but uneventful holiday vacation, it was great seeing everyone in the family again, and christmas wasn't that bad (we opened presents in 4 separate rounds with different groups of friends).
I got the Deathstar that was my "big" christmas present, I can't WAIT to start building it.
I also got an iRiver H10 portable media player. My first media player was an old Creative Nomad that never really worked, so I had a bit of trepidation about the iRiver.
So far, I've been really happy with it, the device is a bit big for a 20G device (about the size of a Dell DJ or 1st generation iPod), but the sound quality is pretty good. I loved the fact that it didn't come with any software, you just plugged it into my PC and it just worked. It doesn't have the caressibility factor of an iPod (or my wife's Creative Zen), it's a more workmanlike device, but I'm happy with it.
Having said that, I wanted to write about the OOBE (out-of-box experience). The iRiver comes in a jet black box with a cut-out that allows you to look at the actual device. Very nice IMHO, you can clearly see the size of the device, etc.
My concerns started when I opened the box.
To the left of the H10 was a plastic bag with the manual etc. On the top of the plastic bag, plain to see was a bright orange piece of paper with:
Before you return it...
Contact iriver America.
We Can Help
What on EARTH were these guys thinking? I just opened the box, and you present me with a big warning that tells me that I'm going to have problems with the device! Stuff like this guarantees that I'm going to have low expectations of the device. There was also another insert inside the plastic bag that said "Having sync problems, you may need a firmware update, see ....".
Contrast this with the iPod experience. You open the box and it unfolds like a flower showing you the device. You just KNOW when you open it that it's just going to work and you're going to be happy with it. The Creative Zen is also a pretty good OOBE (not as good as the iPod one but not bad).
I'm sure that iRiver added this warning because they were concerned about excessive returns from people, but apparently they totally ignored the effect it would have on their OOBE.
Sometimes I wonder (and dispair) about the lack of attention that people spend on their OOBE. Just like the old cliche "You only get one chance to make a first impression", you only get one opportunity to run the OOBE. The OOBE sets the tone for the consumer for the life of the product. If you blow the OOBE, you've just made your life harder, since it will take the user longer to be delighted with your product.
This applies across the board, btw, not just for software/hardware. For instance, my mother, Daniel and I went to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in NYC (a great show, btw) over the vacation. Since the transit workers were on strike in the City, we walked from her apartment on the Upper West Side to the theater (30ish blocks). On the way, we stopped off at a Starbucks to get a coffee (and take a quick break). The Starbucks was crowded (as they often are), but I placed our orders, dropped coats off at the table and went back to get our drinks. Somehow they'd managed to lose both Daniels and my drink (Mom had a drop coffee so there was no opportunity to mess it up). My guess is that people just took our drinks because they didn't want to wait for theirs.
Now think about this experience in terms of OOBE (or first-run). If this had been my first time in a Starbucks, I'd never go back - they would have lost a customer for life because of their horrible service. The same thing happens with software and hardware. Your first experiences with a product set the stage for your subsequent uses, so it's utterly critical that you ensure not only that the users first experience with your product delight them, but it also should leave them WANTING to use your product.
What could iRiver have done better? Well, first off, they should have ensured that the devices sold had the most recent version of their firmware. My device had version 1.5 of the firmware, their web site had version 2.6 something-or-other on it. Given that they had several major revisions to the firmware, you'd think that they would be flashing the devices with current firmware. Secondly, instead of the quick fix of adding paper inserts to the packaging, they should have investigated WHY people were returning the devices - was the problem that WMP was too hard to use? Was it that the device had bugs? Were the controls unintuitive?
I can't stress how important it is to ensure that your customer have a wonderful experience from the instant that they open your box (or store door, or install your product, or...). IMHO, this is a huge part of the reason that Apple dominates the music player industry - they spent the time to ensure that every aspect of the use of their devices delights, from the second you open the box to when you start listening to their product.
A large part of what makes a product a great product is the attention to detail on every aspect of the experience, and that starts the very second you open the box (or turn the computer on). Failure to realize this can cause your otherwise excellent product to fail at the marketplace.