Monday, September 29, 2008

HD Radio = Bad Engineering

And that's where this story begins. Add that to the fact that HD Radio does not fulfill a [consumer] need or solve a real problem [for consumers] and now we are witnessing a technology struggling to find a reason to exist.

Can it be saved? Maybe, but I think the odds are long.

Two things that might have made a difference:

  1. A different interface. Instead of frequency extension i.e. 102.1-2 the IBOC system should have been marketed as a NEW band with new channel numbers. AM, FM, and the new DM (digital modulation). Even those under 25 might have been intrigued to sample this new DM radio broadcasting. This still doesn't address the signal issues related to low power and topography.
  2. New, original, and unique programming that is not solely dependent on music programming. Music channels are cheap and easy. Entertainment programming is expensive and certainly not easy.

Can these issues be addressed now? Seems to me that it might be too late on the engineering side of things and it's never to late to produce great programming.

Let me share with you a great column I read written by Brad Burnham on the Union Square Ventures website (a venture capital firm in NYC). It is talking about computer technology and its applications, but I think the article applies nicely to HD-R. Read the entire piece here.

In the old days, electrical engineers focused on getting computers to work not on getting people to engage with the systems built on top of those computers. The folks that built enterprise software were vaguely aware that their systems had to be accessible to the humans that used them but they had a huge advantage. The people who used them did so as part of their job, they were trained to use them and fired if they could not figure them out.

Today, no one tells you to use Facebook. There are no employer sponsored training sessions on the use of The burden is on the designer of the system to meet a need, entertain, or inform their users. They also have to seduce those users, hiding complexity, revealing one layer at time, always enticing, never intimidating, until the user one day finds they are intimately familiar with power and the pleasures of the service.

Designing a system that does that is not an electrical engineering problem. It is a social engineering problem. The best social engineers are working today on consumer facing web services. They understand that there is enormous potential leverage in those services. The creators of these services recognize that services like theirs will ultimately disrupt the economics of many, if not most, parts of the global economy in much the same way that Craigslist collapsed the multi-billion dollar classified industry into a fabulously profitable multi-million dollar web service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

First impressions have already been made with consumers - consumers have rejected HD Radio. If there was any exciting HD channel programming, as obviously there is none after threee years, it would be put on the main analog channels where the real money is being made. Retailers are pulling HD radios from store shelves, manufacturers are starting to reject HD Radio, Jaguar is pulling HD Radio from its systems, and Ford and Volvo dealers have not even heard of HD Radio. HD Radio's last chance is to be forced in Satrad receivers by Congressman Markey's absurd new bill:

The HD chipsets are too power hungry and too large to be forced into Satrad receivers.