Vaporware isn't just about overpromising and underdelivering, but can have tangible negative effects
While most people believe that vaporware is at least somewhat uncool, we generally tolerate it because we like to know what the future’s going to bring. But far from being harmless fun, in extreme cases vaporware can actually threaten the industry’s health.
Vaporware goes in cycles. There have been vaporware binges, like in the late 90s, and times when the industry has toned down the hype—lately, companies are getting better about not overpromising and underdelivering. And I hope it stays that way, because the hangover from a vaporware binge isn’t pretty . . . here’s why.
When a company announces a product prematurely, it precipitates a chain of events. Suppose Company A announces a new product with either breakthrough features or a breakthrough price. Now Companies B-Z, who are working on something that could end up being competitive with Company A’s offering, feel the need to announce their products ahead of schedule; what’s more, they now have a price target they have to hit. Perhaps shortly before the product is introduced, Company A realizes the price has to increase to include the features they promised (or omit features to meet the promised price). At this point, the other companies are committed to their vaporware prices, which can result in a general lowering of prices to an unrealistically low level.
But this is good, yes? Competition makes things less expensive, right? Yes, but there’s a lot more to a product than price, such as support. If a company is making so little money from the product they can’t provide decent support, include a coherent manual, or work on future updates to keep the customer base they already have, no one benefits.
Nor does anyone benefit from the pressure that vaporware puts on engineers. Projections for when products will ship are often optimistic, and sometimes the engineers have to compensate. Corners get cut, tempers fray, software unravels, testing suffers, and the product ends up not being all it could be. The end users feel burned, the engineers feel burned-out, and the marketing people end up doing damage control instead of marketing.
Even worse is that many companies now announce future enhancements, and tack on a fictional date like “4th Quarter 2013.” First of all, anyone who bases their purchasing decisions on a promise of something that might not exist until close to a year from now (if ever) is not a very savvy consumer. But more importantly, if the product is that far away, why not wait until the 2014 Winter NAMM and—what a concept—take orders on a product that can actually be shipped?
Meanwhile as musicians, it’s important not to get caught up in option paralysis due to vaporware. For example if you need a more capable audio interface, there are plenty of options available right now. Sure, there might be something more wonderful a year from now; in fact, there almost certainly will be. But while it’s important to think about the future, we’re living in the present. You don’t put off recording a song because you might be a better guitar player next year—and you should base your decisions about your needs on today’s reality, not some promise of what might happen in the future.
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