What it means to say that a hardware product works
I’m not the first 20-something to go home for the holidays and have stupid arguments with his parents. You’re really arguing because of the ennui of a long holiday visit, combined with the challenges of re-negotiating the parent/child relationship as an adult. But there has to be a catalyst, and in my case the catalyst was a Bell Windstorm air pump.
I spent about 15 minutes trying to pump up a car tire with this pump (don’t even ask why we’re pumping up a car tire with a bike pump). I said the pump didn’t work. My dad said it did. A stupid argument ensues. The plus side of this is it got me thinking. What does it mean to say a hardware product works? How do we break that down?
Here’s what I think. Every hardware product makes promises about what it can do. Those promises might be explicit — like marketing copy — or implicit — say, implied by the device interface. But to work, a product must fulfill all of its promises. Plain and simple.
Let’s think about our air pump here. I register two promises from this guy.
- It will move air from the environment into a sealed vessel (ball, tire, etc.).
- The pump will show me the air pressure from 0–120 PSI.
The first promise is explicit. It’s on the box when you buy it. Perhaps on the device itself. It might be implicit too, from the recognizable form of the product. It’s a pump. It can be used to pump up things. The second promise is implicit. By virtue of having a gauge that goes from 0–120 PSI, I assume the device will show me the pressure of my tire, anywhere from 0–120 PSI.
So here is what happened. I’ve got a car tire low on air, and I’m trying to top it off. I hook up the pump — and nothing happens to the pressure gauge. Solid flatline at 0. I connect, I reconnect (several times). Nothing. So I start pumping. Still nothing. I pump away at this thing for about 15 minutes. How much air is in my tire? Am I overinflated? Is my my tire going to explode on I-95, causing me to careen to a fiery death? Who knows.
Eventually the pressure gauge meanders up to around 20 PSI. Now, I can guess what’s going on here. The gauge doesn’t work that well. Below 20 PSI, it’s going to register nothing. Above 20 PSI, it probably works ok. Maybe. I don’t know.
And that’s just it. I don’t know. Think about a person you trust. If they lie to you, and you find out, you’re never going to quite trust that person the same way again. A product is no different. By breaking one promise, you call all others into question. Is the gauge really accurate above 20 PSI? My confidence in the product is irrevocably diminished.
I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond — John D. Rockefeller
If you’re making a hardware product, pay attention to the promises you make — explicitly, and implicitly. How you live up to them — or don’t — will define your product, your company, and your brand.