User Experiences

I'm back!

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:


Having Trouble?


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.


Comments (26)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think Windows XP suffers from a similar problem. When you first install Windows it is obvious that Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making a really good product – almost too much.

    Once you get past the initial install and see the desktop for the first time, Windows displays a whole load of messages that on their own would be useful but together are really annoying. From memory, with out touching a button you get prompted to:

    – Click here to begin

    – Activate Windows

    – Set up your network

    – Change your display settings

    – Sign in to messenger

    – Hide some icons

    – Show some icons

    – …

    After installing Windows, I just want to use it (and install all my software).

    Maybe it isn’t that bad but it would be nice if all these features worked together so they didn’t all appear after the first boot.

  2. Jeff Parker says:

    Hey, Larry welcome back.

    You know I still haven’t come up with any new years resolutions. Though this is something I have thought about several times the OOBE in my own coding and trying to improve it so maybe that is my resolution to improve my OOBE. Typically I absolutely love it when I am developing some Windows Service or something that has no UI, I have no one to please but me and my boss. However, I will admit when I do create a UI usually right off the bat the first response from the test group are not always flawless but that’s why we have test groups. But a lot of time I have trouble I think with an inner struggle of doing what’s right and doing what the test group wants. Sometimes I know the test group is way off base.

    For example I was developing a new web UI into a financial application interface. I bring in a bunch of higher up finance people that really are not the people going to be using it. But they are the people that started the project because the people under them really needed something new. Now I talk to the people that will be using this and I think I have a pretty good idea of what they are looking for. However the Higher Ups in here testing it are just going off the deep end with suggestions I mean really. One of the suggestions from one of these higher up wanted to know if I could put something like Weather bug into this app since we do not let them install weather bug because of spyware reasons. I just looked at them like the grew two heads. I mean this was a finance app and they wanted the weather to be an icon in the lower corner. I calmly reminded them that we were a global company and in order to do this I would have to supply weather details for basically every location in the world and unless we were planning on launching any weather satellites soon this was not really a possibility. They then asked well how about we just display weather for the corporate office. Anyway I never really get good feedback until after the application is released. I can usually talk them out of any crazy ideas like that. And do listen to their suggestions and some do have some good ideas. But again not everyone is represented. Anyway do have any suggestions, theories, or methodologies for improving the OOBE as a developer.

  3. Anonymous says:

    iRiver makes great hardware but lousy software. So lousy that there’s <a href="">open source firmware</a> that does a much better job, just not for the player you have. ^^;;

  4. Mike Dimmick says:

    A question to ask is just why there are so many revisions of firmware. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

    In order to achieve the goal of getting the most recent firmware onto devices, the manufacturer would have to recall all devices from wholesalers and stores whenever a new firmware release was made. That’s pretty expensive! I’d point out that Microsoft don’t recall all copies of Windows XP from stores and reissue them with every new security update – although the update process is generally more painless compared to updating firmware.

    I do wonder whether, like PC versus console games, the opportunity to update firmware on a device reduces the acceptable quality bar for any given firmware revision. On the other hand, the consumer seems to have now come to expect that a computer-based device will gain features during its life through software updates.

  5. Mike, the thing to keep in mind is that they don’t need to recall anything. They just need to ensure that their fabs are flashing the most recent version of the firmware.

    Valorie ordered this within the past month or two, so… Now it might have been sitting on Amazon’s shelves for quite some time but…

    I suspect that the v1.5 firmware was the original firmware from when the device was introduced.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I had the same piece of paper with my little iRiver that I bought "way back" in 2003. It caused me a bit of consternation back then as well, but the player is still going strong now, and I’ve never actually had a problem with it.

    Not the best OOBE though, really.

  7. pepethecow says:

    Larry, I must say I am jealous of you on account of your new Lego model. Ever since I first saw the Star Destroyer on your site I’ve been eyeing that and the Death Star.

    I got the Millenium Falcon for Christmas, which was a lot of fun putting together, but mostly it made me want those bigger models even more. I guess my wife balked at $300 for a "toy." 🙂 Maybe next year…

    Be sure to post a picture!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think this would be a guarantee that you will have problems with your device. At least, not to me. And not only that, posting this on Starbuck’s doors isn’t even necessary.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Err… I have to agree your idea about OOBE of packaging. But for myself, I just ignore it.

    All I concern about is the working condition of the product. A don’t really care if the package is like bulk-pack or not. (Or you can say the my OOBE is on the first time I actually use it. Certainly, everyone will be dismayed when the product fails the first time you use it, right?)

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’ll talk about my OOBE for a 512 MB USB drive.

    After spending 10 minutes trying to open it and hold conversations I fina;lly ransacked mum’s kitchen for sissors. I couldn’t even cut the plastic. I found out why. There was a mini CD in the packaging.

    OOBE for a 4gig IPod Mini. Walk through park, find in grass. That was a good OOBE. As I don’t listen to portable music player I thought of it as a 4 gig hard drive (really as a pocket watch). The person who lost it didn’t lose the USB cable unfortunately. So it sits here flat.

    Mind you I had to download the manual to learn how to work it.

    I love looking at these GUIs of such things. I changed over the years to now believing that there should be no customisation of UIs, things should work in one way and one way only.

    I have a belief, tried by others in the past – Clive Sinclair for one – that what is needed is a computer that does mail, internet, letters, photos, and music. Nothing else. Can’t install software, can’t customise, just a very simple set of functions. With the target being people like my dad who I couldn’t convert to computers.

    I can’t reccommend a PC to anyone who isn’t a technical expert (and they’re not interested in my reccommendations). My Sister’s family, they restore the OS from restore disks weekly. They don’t store data as they know it will disappear in a week. XP is not a fit product for this market. Why o why did youse let strangers write to the hard drive? Who thought if I accidently visited a japenese page I wanted to download megabytes of usesless fonts in a language I can’t read.

    My dad joined your dad 12 days before xmas.

  11. Mike Fourie says:

    This isn’t all that unusual for consumer products. My wife got a slushie machine ( for Christmas and it had the exact same dire warning on the manual. Same goes for our carpet steamer.

    I suspect it has something to do with the manufacturers wanting to reduce the amount of returns they get through the store for things like "I can’t find the on switch".


  12. Anonymous says:

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006 4:32 PM by LarryOsterman

    > They just need to ensure that their fabs are

    > flashing the most recent version of the

    > firmware.

    Odds are they did exactly that.

    During the holidays I bought a motherboard after checking the manufacturer’s web site, verifying that it could handle an AMD X2 and 4GB of RAM, had x64 drivers, etc. Well, the particular instance I bought had been manufactured and flashed before AMD released the X2 that I had, so I had to download and flash the latest BIOS. So far, so good. The motherboard had been flashed with the latest BIOS at the time of manufacture. The motherboard now does handle the X2 exactly as their web site promised.

    Now for an offtopic paragraph though. The motherboard doesn’t handle 4GB of RAM. At this moment the probability appears high that this part of the spec was a lie all along, and odds are the board’s going to go back.

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s better than the nasty and insulting XP activation OOBE. It’s almost like the iRiver piece of paper but only with different and most insulting content – "STOP! We assume that you are a god damn liar and a thief. We can offer a chance to you to prove that you aren’t a)A liar and b)A Theif, compelling ain’t it? So – Activate"

  14. Anonymous says:

    (unrelated rant, sort of 🙂

    Buying new bulk HDD is usually good OOBE. You cut/tear the plastic wrap and then ooh aah at all that empty space and the shiny shell.

    But after you plug it in the disappointment hits when you realize that the HDD keeps making occasional strange noise (maintenance related usually) or is one that vibrates.

    Now if the HDD manufacturers had included a note saying what noises are to be expected, I would have avoided hours of searching whether the noises for this model are normal or not.

    OK maybe the RETAIL hdd’s do carry such notes about noises, but I do not know anyone who buys those since they are 1.5x as expensive as the bulk packed ones and the only difference is the packing.

    If you think I am joking, go over SR, there is a good post on noise profiles of Hitachi, Maxtor, Seagate, WD. Word is Samsung is still quite silent but haven’t got one yet.

    Almost every device I’ve had have had some quite immediately noticeable issues. The only ones I haven’t had any issues with (probably due to patch in software?) are Intel CPUs. I have ton of working CPUs around, no working motherboards to use them in. While HDDs have had their noises, thankfully have only had one crash that I could not recover data from.

  15. Dave says:

    When you buy a shiny gizmo at Best Buy or Circuit City and it doesn’t perform to your satisfaction, you return it there. When they ask you the reason you say "doesn’t work right" or something similarly vague. That’s the feedback that the company receives about their shiny gizmo, along with the opened box and the chargeback from Best Buy.

    Now, "doesn’t work right" also sounds like a phrase taken from 80% of the initial software bug reports I’ve ever seen. But most software makers have the ability to follow up directly with customers, to collect crash data, to instrument software to report failure details over the Internet, to automatically update software after it’s installed. All of that makes the OOBE better, if not immediately then over a period of months as bugs are fixed and the updates spread out to the existing customers.

    How many hardware developers get those same opportunities? Very few. Sometimes it’s due to the channel–they rarely have contact with the customers unless they can get your attention with the bright orange piece of paper. Other times it’s just the expectations and habits of the hardware maker or consumer–"if it doesn’t work, take the box back to where you bought it."

    Other times it’s due to limitations of the hardware and the way it’s used. For example, I had a DVD player that required a firmware update; you had to download an ISO, burn it to CD-R, and "play" it in the player to do the update. But should the company have put in some sort of "DVD Update" feature that required an Internet connection? Should they have popped up a reminder on screen every few months saying "For best experience and product satisfaction we recommend checking for firmware upgrades?"

    If hardware products are falling down anywhere, it’s in trying to ship out half-ass products and say "we’ll fix it later." That works for software, where we have our crash dumps and Windows Updates to fall back on. Hardware needs a lot more attention in the pre-release phase to make sure it all works smoothly. Once that poorly designed hardware goes out the door it’s gone. Unless it comes back in an open box with a note that says "doesn’t work right."

  16. Anonymous says:

    I just had the exact same experience ("STOP! Before you return this device…") with a HEPA filter we just bought. Maybe they hired the same marketing guys. 😉

  17. Mike Dunn says:

    A lot of the players I tested at my last job had those warning inserts, so it’s not just an Iriver thing.

    At least the H10 doesn’t have that horrible impossible-to-cut plastic packaging. THAT is the worst OOBE experience possible – making it difficult to get it out of the box in the first place.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Back in January, I wrote about the OOBE of my iRiver H10 player, and I’ve got another horrid first run…

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