East End Tech: Tips for Wannabe Technofiles

People often ask me how I know a great tech gadget…what unique features or special magic create that “wow” moment when you know you have to own it?

I rarely answer, as I am too engrossed in my iPhone to pay attention. That’s one sure sign of gadget genius; if you can’t put it down, chances are it’s pretty cool.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the opposite: what are the red flags, bugs, and glitches that can turn a seemingly useful technology device into an expensive piece of junk? I spent some time looking at notable recent failures and came up with a few rules to shop by.

Rule #1: Technology + Water Usually Don’t Mix

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, I came across a much-hyped “waterproof tablet” that I could use in my swimming pool or even in the ocean. The sales person bragged that I could hold it under water longer than I could hold my breath.

Think about this for a minute. This tablet might be useful if you’re booked on the Titanic, or if you have tropical fish that like to read DansPapers.com Online. Mine do. Hugh Hefner has probably spent more time in a hot tub than any living human, but I bet even Hef doesn’t have a burning need to play Angry Birds in a Jacuzzi.

The point: think about when, where, and how you’ll be using the device. If its sole value lies in its ability to work in a dangerous or unusual setting, then chances are you won’t ever need it. More importantly—the plain old versions of that device will be far more useful for the other 99.9% of the time.

Rule #2: Stay Away From One-Trick Ponies

This rule is related to the first. We live in a world where single technology devices can do many things well. So you probably shouldn’t waste time or money buying devices that only do one thing very well.

Case in point: the world’s best calculator might be useful if you run a hedge fund, but chances are you can get almost all of the same functionality from the simple calculator on your laptop or tablet. Buying lots of single-purpose devices takes up space and burns cash; they defeat the entire purpose of technology, which is to streamline and do more with less.

Rule #3: If You Feel Stupid Using It, Don’t Bother

This rule is kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people end up with items like eyeglasses with a built-in DVD player. (Yes, someone actually makes this product, and it looks even sillier than you can imagine.)

The classic example here is the Segway motor scooter. When announced, the Segway received tons of buzz. But once people actually rode one, and saw how goofy they looked, the market fizzled about as quickly as the Facebook IPO.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Those giant Beats By Dre headphones are wildly popular even though they look pretty silly.

Rule #4: Technology Moves Quickly—But You Don’t Have To

My final piece of advice for avoiding bad gadgets: don’t buy anything straight away.

This is good advice even for products made by Apple. Remember when the iPhone 4 came out and had those problems with reception when you held it a certain way?

Or was it the 3G Model? Or the 3GS? See, you can’t even remember which one was flawed, and that’s my point. Apple wants every single person on the planet to own that new phone. It’s not going anywhere. There’s no need to wait in line all night and be the first person to own something that might have serious bugs or flaws.

Soak in all the gushing reviews. Then let the haters have their turns on the blogs.

When the hype dies down, and the lines grow shorter, that’s when you take a closer look and decide whether it’s time to buy.

Follow these rules, and you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding technology horror stories.

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