Why Sony’s PDAs Failed In The U.S., But Not In Japan

This is certainly an interesting perspective on the Sony’s failure in the US… I can’t say whether I agree or disagree, but will add my own own experience is of not to read the manual unless the gadget seems incredibly complicated and like something I can’t figure out, which is to say pretty rare with me and consumer electronics.

I just did not like what the Sony devices had to offer (except for wifi and bluetooth together) vs. Palm and was not willing to pay the huge price difference. I was pretty close to getting the UX-50 but found the screen way too small compared to the T3.

Sony’s design flaws, and ultimate failure, also came from a misunderstanding of its target audience, as well as poor design. But size wasn’t the problem, rather it was usability by the American consumer.

The typical Japanese electronics buyer (of cameras, camcorders, PDAs, etc.) reads the manual in order to understand everything they can about their devices. I am told (though I have never seen it myself) it’s not unusual to see people wearing a PDA on a lanyard around their neck in Japan. They love their technology and they have no problem spending all the necessary time it takes to learn how to use it well. Americans love technology too but expect it to be powerful AND intuitive, and we don’t want to have to read the darn manual.

Unquestionably, Sony engineers are brilliant; they can make things smaller than anyone on the planet. They can rewrite software to do amazing things on a PDA. They were first to market with lots of PDA enhancements. But they didn’t take the time to make their enhancements intuitive and thus non-manual-reading Americans thought their device was too complicated or worse, broken.

Sony failed with Clies in the U.S. because its devices had numerous small software controls with cryptic icons, buried settings with vast numbers of mystifying variables to set up things like Wi-Fi, and unnecessarily complicated looking screens. Apparently for the Japanese consumer, a complicated-looking Applications screen suggests that the device is cool and powerful. In America, the same screen is seen as too complicated and confusing, and if it requires a manual to figure it out, it’s going back to the store.

There’s even proof of this inside every Clie box lid. Sony prints the message, “If your product is not working properly, DO NOT RETURN IT TO THE STORE…” then it tells you how to get tech support via a toll-free number or web address. The box lid message finishes with, “For U.S. customers only.” [Brighthand]

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