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‘Tech-Speak’ Confuses Consumers, Curtails Sales

It seems that nonsense names like Avanti, Altima, Corolla and Pacifica seem to actually help boost the sales of new automobiles. But when it comes to electronics, the same concept is more likely to confuse consumers and cause them to defer, or even cancel, purchase plans.

At least that’s the conclusion drawn by a market study conducted for the global consumer advisory board of integrated circuit maker AMD, by MetaFacts, a research firm that specializes in technology issues. The results are based on a survey of 1,535 consumers, of which about 60 percent were in the United States, with the balance about equally divided between China, Japan and the United Kingdom.

The respondents were asked to select from three choices the correct definition of 11 relatively common industry terms. Here, minus the multiple choice answers as I’m sure my knowledgeable readers don’t need, are the terms:

  • Bluetooth
  • Megahertz
  • DPI
  • Megapixel
  • Dot pitch
  • MP3
  • Download
  • WAP
  • DVR
  • Web Browser
  • Short Messaging Service

So how many did you actually know?

Only 3 percent of respondents were able to correctly identify all 11. I was among the 12 percent that got 10 right. In truth, I took the test twice and got WAP wrong both times. I’m still not sure what it means. The break-even point was at seven or fewer correct, which encompassed 52 percent of the panel. Those with either seven or eight correct answers each represented 17 percent of the panel; 22 percent had five or fewer correct answers, and 21 percent were able to come up with nine or more.

Among the least understood terms, fewer than half the total panel correctly identified either Bluetooth or WAP. DVR was identified by only 32 percent of consumers, but that may be because the product may not be so strongly promoted outside the United States.

Fully a third of the panel couldn’t identify Megahertz, MP3 or DPI. What was even more surprising was that only 72 percent of home PC users knew what DPI stood for, but even that was better than their 67 percent correct scores for both Megahertz and MP3.

The study does show that PC owners accept new technology more readily than non-owners. It reports that 87 percent of those planning to purchase a DVR, and 80 percent of those looking to buy a new DVD player within the next year, are in fact PC owners. What’s more, better than 80 percent of those with seven or more correct answers have used a PC for six or more years, and only 29 percent of those who have never used a PC could match that score.

Among the 35 percent who came up with six or fewer answers, as many as 54 percent hold off on purchasing consumer electronics because they feel the products are too complicated. PDAs and home computers are at the top of the over-complicated list, followed by digital cameras (47 percent) and DVRs (42 percent).

Only 8 percent worry about telephones, and for microwave ovens that drops to 7 percent. But even among the most informed consumers, those with seven or more right answers, half see digital cameras as too complex to buy, and 40 percent are leery when it comes to PDAs.

What are the big hurdles that consumers fear most? Of those who said they have put off at least one purchase, 39 percent said they fear the product is too complicated, and an equal percentage are concerned with difficulty in setting it up.

What do consumers want? Of all respondents, 62 percent said they want products they can take out of the box and use, and 46 percent said they just don’t buy products that are hard to set up.

Anyone who is interested can take the actual test on AMD’s Web site ( and download the test results report.

The study underscores the wisdom of the agreement between the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable Television Association to change the name of the decoder card needed for upcoming digital cable-ready TVs from Point of Deployment Card to CableCard. Well done, guys.