False choices

My wife’s cousin is an electrical engineer. In his spare time he noodles around with lots of kit. For example he buys broken TomTom satnavs off eBay and fixes them up.

He’s really good at it and in the process he’s discovered something very interesting. Despite the appearance of many different models in fact most of them have identical hardware features. Indeed much of the functionality that TomTom only provide in the more expensive models is there in all of them – they just turn it off in the software.

Think about that – they build it in the device. You hold the functionality (e.g. USB2.0 connectivity) in your hands. But TomTom force you to either pay more or it won’t work. Some will say that’s rife across many industries but I think it’s wasteful and disrespectful.

Imagine if the Apple iPhone 3GS (which has a built in GPS receiver) was sold in two models, with navigation and without. The only difference would be in software. I can’t see Apple doing that because: They like to keep their product line simple, and they (generally) treat customers well.

Something else he’s discovered is that many of the TomTom software updates work fine on old models, they just block them from running with hardware version number checks – forcing demand to buy newer models.

False choices (between the 13 models of TomTom car satnavs currently on sale) are bad for customers and ultimately bad for business: We don’t want to have to make difficult choices between all the versions; we don’t want to realise that we’re being extorted to use hardware features we’ve already bought or upgrade when our existing kit is good enough. Today’s smart consumers aren’t going to put up with this kind of behaviour.