Want a quick way to confuse a customer? Throw a new version of something on the market.
In the software world this is accepted, and typically expected, though nobody really likes it. New versions cause support and communication breakdowns between customers and vendors, and create extra work for software teams to test and maintain. But again, with software, it’s just the way things go. You can choose not to upgrade something and keep using the old version, or be on the cutting edge and try the pre-release “beta” version of something. Again, software is easy when it comes to versioning.
Hardware, on the other hand, is a little trickier. When my MacBook has a firmware upgrade, not only is a reboot in order, it takes complete control of my system for a while. The same is true for my cell phone, my Slingbox, and other gadgetry I own. Upgrading a device usually requires a dedicated application/program to do the work for you.
But how do you upgrade a cable? Well, it turns out you don’t. You buy a new cable. And you clearly tell consumers the difference. Unless you are HDMI, in which case you upgrade the standard from 1.3 to 1.4 and require a new cable, despite not renaming it. This, my friends, sucks. Here’s a little vision of the future for you:
Random customer in Best Buy: “Hi, can you help me find an HDMI cable for my plasma?”
Best Buy employee: “Sure, do you need a 1.3 or 1.4 cable?”
RC: “What is that, metric? How about 6 feet?”
BB: “Hah, no, I meant what version HDMI cable?”
RC: “One that works with my plasma.”
BB: “Here, I’ll show you the two cables, see how the ends are different? Which one looks like the one on your plasma.”
RC: “Gee, I don’t know, why on earth would I remember that? I sure remember when they were red/yellow/white, or red/blue/green, or S-video. Now I have a plasma, and my son said I should get HDMI.”
BB: “Yes, well you need to know if it’s the 1.3 standard or 1.4 standard.”
RC: “What’s the difference?”
BB: “1.4 is faster! It can send Internet content too!”
RC: “I’m going home now.”
To be clear – I think the new technology is cool. But why couldn’t they just call it something completely different? A “point upgrade” for a cable? Really? Bad idea. According to a graph I saw on VentureBeat there are over a billion HDMI cables already on the market.
As a technologist, I “get” the upgrade as a concept. But as a consumer I dread the support calls I’ll inevitably get from friends and family members with incompatible devices, equipment, and cables. I certainly don’t want to have a call like (I’ll let you find the source to the following, as it’s one of my favs)…
Okay. Did you use the Intensifier Disc?
Turn the controls 18 degrees to the left?
Are you in Europe? Do you need an adapter?
I hope when HDMI 1.4 comes to market it has a completely new name, like HDMI-PRO, or S-HDMI, or something other than a number. Ditto to the USB 3.0 people, by the way. There’s a certain point where the numbers have to go bye-bye, and mass-understandable concepts must take over. This is one of them.