A great user experience

er23-rubyI bought Etymotic Research hf2 headphones on the recommendation of a friend in Brooklyn NYC. At first I baulked at the price, well north of £100 at the time but in a moment of retail weakness and growing dissatisfaction with the default iPod headphones (they really are the weak link in a brilliant product), I gave in and bought them – having had to hunt in 3 different Apple stores to get them I add.

My concerns over price were immediately allayed. They sound fantastic. Takes a little while to get the right positioning (comfort and sound) by my goodness once you get it the sound is rich, to the extent that I almost felt like I was hearing some things for the first time, which in a way I guess I was.

So, the initial user experience was great. Expectation, matched by experience, overcoming the fear of price and making a mistake – small item and big price.

However, I used them all the time, and I mean all the time. In my iPhone, for my various iPods (no logical reason to own more than one, I just like them – another UX story!), plugged into my Mac at work, in the plane when travelling – just stuck in my ear without anything on the other end, brilliant for cutting out the majority of background noise = sleep!

By far the best earphones I used, no question.

That heavy use did lead to one thing – earwax. I know not nice to imagine other people’s earwax but hey like the Queen crapping, it happens OK? So, naturally after 10-12 months heavy use, I start to lose sound in one side (left btw). Now, I know not to stuff anything in there and break them but I can’t resist trying to loosen whatever was blocking the sound – it doesn’t take much. Pins gently wiggled produced some sound but not the answer.

What I had forgotten was the packaging – nice soft plastic pouch (so what) but as well as spare and alternate covers for different ears shapes was the very thing. A beautifully machined tool to pull out the inner cover (gently, gently) and two spares. Instant repair and a very happy consumer.

Now getting one great experience out of such a small item is great but two? Tremendous value.

My point is that the overall design (i.e. the sum of all its elements) of these headphones has been executed extremely well. From the peer review through to repair, each step and experience has been thought about and honed, except one.

Their website carries reviews from all the major titles and a nice pull quote etc. However, these simply do not convey the experience well and peer reviews are far more compelling (take this blog post for example). So, while the product is damn near perfect, the business execution and conversion has not had the same criteria and process applied, which is a shame.

All that to one side – Apple should simply package these with iPhones and iPod Touches, bite the cost instead of passing it onto the consumer and move the iPhone/iPod experience up a gear. Failing that, offer them as the default add-on purchase.

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