Why Aren’t Your Products Better?

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here with a thought about product quality.

I am known for being a bit intolerant of poor quality products. While out of my official turf, I just don’t understand why our company (or any company) would ever produce products of sub-standard design. Does your company produce mediocre stuff?

I often cite Apple as a company that pays attention to the details. And, immediately I get a response that apple is special, and that we can’t invest in design like Apple can. I think this is hogwash thinking.

I remember meeting with a product manager for a large, well known appliance company. I got into a tirade about their poorly designed stuff. The product manager responded that there really wasn’t any way to make their stuff better since microwave ovens are just a commodity appliance and cost control was everything. This was defeatist thinking in my mind.

I said:

So, when I put a cup of coffee in a microwave oven on the turntable, why doesn’t it present the cup back to me exactly as I left it and with the handle facing me?

I paused and listened to the product manager incredulously ask me if I thought he should mount a camera in the oven to monitor the coffee cup and then add a complicated sensor to continue rotating the turntable until the coffee cup was back in its original position. “So there!” he almost said.

I answered:

This feature costs nothing. It’s free. Simply calculate the gearing so that the turntable rotates exactly once or twice every 30 seconds. AC motors always rotate at a precise speed, so it was just a matter of choosing a gear ratio that worked. If the turntable rotated once every 15 seconds and the motor was a standard 1800 RPM model then they just need a 450:1 gear ratio.

Most people use 15 or 30 or 60 seconds as the heating time. Thus, with a 450:1 gear ratio the coffee cup would always return to exactly to where you put it in the oven at the end of the time.

This elegant feature costs nothing more to manufacture. There is no cost difference in using one gear ratio or another. Yet, this simple convenience would be worthy of putting in the advertising. It would be a differentiating feature. It would create an image that this particular oven was very well thought through.

Apple does precisely this with their products. Their oven would illustrate its superiority by having somebody put in a cup of coffee, heat it for 30 seconds, and then take it out…noting that the “magical” over presented the coffee cup exactly in the same spot that you left it. Many Apple features cost nothing whatsoever. Some of them are actually cost-savings.

Every product that i see can be improved for free. The font on the buttons can be optimized. The brightness of the light inside can be improved. The feel of the door when it closes can be improved. The button you press when opening the door can have a better feeling snap…all with no increase in manufacturing cost.

All that matters is that somebody care. Just a little bit.

The product manager for this appliance company left the meeting feeling I was crazy. He insulted his customers by saying that none of them would even notice such a feature.

So the next time you heat your cup of coffee in the microwave ask yourself when you take it out: Why isn’t the cup exactly where I left it?

Of course, Apple might decide to make this feature work for any timing duration. They could keep rotating the turntable until the coffee was in the original position for any cooking duration. This would also cost nothing more…just keep the turntable rotating for full increments of 15 seconds. Now, if you set 53 seconds for heating time the turntable would spin for 7 more seconds. Chances are you are not even ready to take the cup in those 7 seconds.

Quality is free. Apple knows this.

All you have to do is care.