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Too many choices spoil the purchase

Analyst says simplification and education can overcome the consumer electronics stall

The growth of the technology industry is largely driven by consumer spending, but too many choices can slow the adoption of new products and put entire markets on hold, an analyst said Wednesday.

A consumer confronted with too many choices might simply walk away from buying or upgrading the product, said Danielle Levitas, a consumer market analyst with IDC.

"Imagine replacing your TV for example. Today it's digital or analogue; 4:3 versus 16:9; direct view, rear projection or a flat. If you go for a flat: [do you choose] a plasma or an LCD? And the resolution: standard, enhanced, or high definition?" Levitas said. "Choice is good – up to a point."

The solutions are simplification, packaging and buyer education, according to Levitas. "Home theatre in a box is a good example. It was marketed with emphasis on the feature, not on the technologies enabling the experience."

Levitas agrees that limitation of choice might be seen as provocative. The user interface on Apple's new iPod Shuffle MP3 player has been criticised by some for being too simple, emphasising random playback and lacking a display that allows a user to see what song will appear next.

"I'm not sure any other company would get away with that. It's more driven by cost than usability, I think," Levitas said.

Levitas considers Apple's larger MP3 players a better example of devices that offer a simplified user interface while still providing choice. "The surface must be at its most simplified level; then you let people get deeper. Apple also gives the customer a chance to put a personal stamp on the product by choosing colour," she said.

Emerging technologies may also be hampered by competing standards, like the dispute under way among vendors of next-generation DVD recording technology, Levitas said. "The next generation of blue laser DVD players and recorders won't take off until the vendors and the entertainment companies have agreed on using Blu-ray or HD-DVD," she said.

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