Amazon Echo sets the bar for the perfect PC, smartphone or tablet upgrade experience

The PC market largely lives on churn because it has reached near saturation. But if people resist buying a new PC, churn is damaged...and that's partially what resulted in slowing PC sales and the seeming decline of the PC. I found it fascinating when I recently installed a new Amazon Echo Show and it was the best new technology experience I’d ever had. While PCs have become vastly easier to replace, they still lack that experience.

amazon echo show black and white
Amazon

Back in the 1990s I became concerned that it took way too long for someone to provision a new laptop.  What brought this to my attention was when Intel was recommending users get laptops every two years, arguing that the impact on productivity easily justified the cost.  I observed that the people doing the briefing had products that were 3-5 years old and asked, “if replacing a laptop every two years could be justified based on productivity gains, why don’t you do it?” 

Delving deeper into this question, I found that a lot of Intel employees refused new laptops because it could take several days – sometimes up to a week! –  to get a new laptop provisioned and working correctly again.  Apple was kind of the gold standard, because migrations were far quicker and less annoying.

Over time things have gotten a lot better.  Now when I get a new laptop, I can generally have it up and running with patches and applications installed in half a day (mostly unattended). Smartphones started out better than PCs and improved from there.  Now, regardless of whether you buy an iOS or Android smartphone, you can generally have all of the updates and migrated apps in place in an hour or so (also largely unattended). 

I thought smartphones set the bar until I got a new Amazon Echo Show last week. After installing it, I’m convinced I heard angels sing and devils curse, because the setup experience was amazing. 

The importance of churn

Once a market for any product approaches saturation – a point where there are so many people with the product that growth is unlikely – churn increases in importance.  You, as the manufacturer, depend on people replacing their old products with new products.

Promoting this churn are feature improvements that can’t be added to products already in market…not to mention the status associated with having something new. Working against this churn is the obvious value of saving money on not buying something to replace a product that’s working just fine, and the effort associated with the migration.

One market that largely evaporated was the PBX market, because the migrations were disruptive and the existing phone systems that companies had were good enough (and very reliable), so they didn’t feel they needed to replace them.  When the market became saturated, most of the firms in this segment either failed, exited or transformed into mostly just servicing what they’d already sold. 

The massive PC sales downturn last decade wasn’t because people stopped using PCs – it was because they stopped wanting to replace them at scale. What they had was good enough and they didn’t want to either expend the funds for something that didn’t need to be replaced or go through the aggravation of replacement. (Oh, and most of the demand generation marketing budgets were cut, which certainly shifted buying to segments where demand generation marketing was still funded.)

But if you can make buying a new PC as easy as buying a new TV or appliance, at least you’d remove one of the big impediments to churn and likely strengthen revenue.

Amazon Echo Show

The onboarding of my new Amazon Echo Show was an eye-opener.  Granted, I needed to be an existing Echo user to get the benefit, but that speaks to churn itself.  When the product arrived, I pulled it out of the box, plugged the power supply into the wall, and it powered on. It then asked me if I was me, and after authenticating, went on to automatically link to my wireless network, do a software update and install all the skills. It took around 30 minutes, but from the time I authenticated until the time it was ready to use it was almost completely automatic. I didn’t have to do a thing.

What PCs, smartphones and tablets could be

Nothing Amazon did was really rocket science.  They simply used the information they collect on their customers to make the onboarding of a new device super simple. PC OEMs and operating system companies have this same information and could easily pre-provision a PC much like Amazon did with the Echo. This would provide a far more personalized setup experience. 

I also think it would improve the churn rate and further strengthen sales for PCs…but it might even help increase sales for smartphones and tablets as well. 

Granted, virtual PCs (where the software is run in the cloud) will fix this, but the mass popularity of that approach is likely gated by the rollout of 5G, which only starts next year. Until then, I think, using the Echo as a bar for how to make PCs, smartphones and tablets even easier to upgrade would likely increase sales. That’s a tide that could raise the boats for all OEMs. 

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