Consider Whether You’ll Actually Use the Item in a New Way (134/365)

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A few years ago, I received an iPod touch as a Christmas gift. It was a very fun toy to play with and I did find a few nice uses for it, such as a quick tool for jotting down notes, but I mostly used the thing as an mp3 player.

In the end, most of the non-music uses for it were replicated by my run-of-the-mill cell phone, so there was no real need to pay extra just so I can have two devices for those little extra tasks.

Right now, I can’t name a genuinely useful thing that an iPod touch can do that my run-of-the-mill cell phone can’t really do.

So often, we hear about some new technology or new product line that will enable you to do things that you haven’t done before or allow you to do things in a completely new way – or at least the promotion of the product tries to convince you of this idea. Apple’s product launches are a great example of that kind of promotion.

When a new product appears, we’re often shown an ideal case of how someone might use the product. It seems pretty impressive, but when you start digging into the details of it, things start to break down. Is it really doing anything you’d need to do? Is it really doing anything new?

Consider Whether You'll Actually Use the Item in a New Way (134/365)

A great example of this is the iPod touch I mentioned at the start. For those unfamiliar, an iPod touch is basically just an iPhone without the cell signal. Theoretically, you can do all of the stuff you can do with an iPhone except without the service plan.

It sounds great on the surface, but when you start looking, the image starts to fall apart a little. Most of the genuinely useful things you can do with an iPhone – talk to people wherever there’s a cell phone signal, use location-aware apps anywhere you go – don’t work with an iPod touch. It also requires that you be near a wi-fi point to actually use the internet.

What about comparing it to a normal iPod? As a music player, it’s not all that great, either. It has a relatively short battery life compared to other mp3 players.

In short, it doesn’t really do anything too new, although it looks flashy. There are a few situations where it might do something nifty, but is it worth the extra cost? Not really. If you want a dedicated portable music player, buy one of those instead.

Once you start evaluating products like this, a lot of things start falling apart. Their new features really aren’t all that amazing or useful to you. Sure, you might be able to invent a rare situation where you would use it, but is it worth paying a lot more just for that special case?

Take a food processor, for example. Unless you start looking at very high end processors (which go far and beyond what I’d need in my kitchen), they don’t do anything I can’t already do with a good blender (which I already have), a spice grinder (which I already have), or a sharp knife (which I already have). So why own one? Sure, I’ve seen many cool examples of how they work, but it’s just a duplication of things I can already do.

When you’re thinking of buying a new product, compare it to what’s already out there at a lower price and consider what is actually different between the two. If the extra features are not something you’d actually use with any regularity, go with the less expensive item.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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6 thoughts on “Consider Whether You’ll Actually Use the Item in a New Way (134/365)

  1. @kc: Would an editor enable Trent to really do anything in a completely new way? Or is it genuinely a duplication of things he can already do?

  2. Totally agree, Trent. I have been in a situation whe4re a salesman was doing the hard sell on the latest phone with all the bells and whistles – all I wanted was a phone that I could use to receive and send text messages and receive and make phonecalls. He was pretty crestfallen when I told him that.

  3. I have to disagree with you here. I received an iPod touch as a gift a couple of years ago and rarely use it as an mp3 player. I mainly use it for the apps and web browser. I have a very basic prepaid cell phone that I don’t use for much other than making calls and the occasional text message, so I love my iPod touch for giving me most of the functionality of an iPhone without the cost of an expensive cell phone plan.

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