Fifteen Consumer Electronics Design Mistakes

consumer electronic design mistakes
You saved and you saved until you could finally buy that shiny new $1000 gadget that promised you everything under the stars. When it came time to plug it in, you found your joy being subsumed by abject horror. Your stomach plunged deep into your gut and you (yes, mortal non-designer you) recognized a fundamental flaw in your flashy gizmo so obvious that it made you want to pick up the device and smash it over the designer's head.

Even the best designers make mistakes...but this article isn't about them. We're about to, ahem, celebrate the worst consumer electronics designers through the lens of their faulty creations. Since I'm far from an all-knowing technology god, I've limited our survey to fifteen design problems that have not only bugged me through the years, but that are widespread enough to have bugged many of you too. These problems aren't limited to current technology, but they all fall into the nebulous realm known as "consumer electronics." You know: TVs, telephones, VCRs, DVD players, MP3 players, and more.

TV/Video Design Mistakes

consumer electronic design mistakes

Mistake #1: The Red Off Light

Device(s): TVs, DVRs, Receivers, Game Consoles, and more

Sing it with me:

TVs do it, Wiis do it
Even silly PS3s do it
Let's do it. Let's never turn off

The little red "off light," common in most modern entertainment center equipment, serves as a constant reminder that your electronic gear never stops doing its job. It's always sippin' on outlet juice, even if you don't want it to. If said equipment happens to be located in your bedroom, the off light also provides a laserlike beam of photons to tickle your eyeballs into unnecessary alertness.

It seems that most TVs, cable boxes, and even video game systems made after 2003 or so provide some sort of active glowing indicator that they're "not running" - that is to say that they're not actively doing what you want them to be doing. By definition, then, the indicator is completely redundant and pointless. (In the case of video game consoles, your electronic gadgets could be doing what you don't want them to be doing: downloading random updates from the Internet.)

Remember when LED power indicators only glowed when a unit was turned on? It was helpful in cases when the device wasn't behaving properly; the little power light let you know that the unit was receiving power. Then you could commence troubleshooting - perhaps you plugged the video connector into the audio connector?- and so on.

That was handy. But an off light?

What Were They Thinking? (Benj's Theory)

It's 2002 and you're designing a new TV set. When it comes time to pick the power LED, you notice these nifty new bicolor or tricolor LEDs that combine two or three different colors into a single component. They're cheap and plentiful, so why not use them? Then you can show everyone that your device works properly-even when it's not working.

There is one small functional purpose for some "off lights," albeit one that I still believe is completely unnecessary: in some devices, the power LED doubles as a diagnostic light for software problems. (For the last decade or more, people have been building software-controlled microcontrollers into everything, so if the programming is off, things don't work. It's not just an hardware design problem anymore.)

Sometimes power LEDs blink when the unit is "warming up" (booting, initializing, etc.) to let you know that, yes, something's happening - you're not just sitting there staring at a blank TV for 10 seconds right after you turned it on. If there's an error, the LED can blink a certain pattern as well, letting a phone technician in India know that you just wasted $600.

There's still no good excuse to have a light shine when your unit is powered off. I'm sure some will challenge that assertion, but TVs worked fine for 50 years without red LED off lights, so I know they're useless.

VCR clocks

Mistake #2: The Blinking VCR Clock

Device(s): Video Cassette Recorders

Who hasn't owned a VCR that blinks? (OK, people under 20: put your hands down.) Almost every VCR ever manufactured shipped with an electronic digital numeric display somewhere on the unit. Its primary purpose was to show running time while playing a tape to assist in viewing, fast-forwarding, or rewinding a recorded program.

That display also had another important reason for being there. When electronics companies introduced VCRs in the 1970s, they marketed the devices as a way to record and time-shift broadcast TV shows, and let owners program them to begin recording at a certain date and time as guided by an internal clock. So it only made sense that the VCR displayed the current time on the front of the unit (even when it was off-you know, just in case you didn't already have a timepiece).

So what's the problem? When the VCR lost power, either through being unplugged from the wall, or when your house would experience a momentary power dropout, the unit would lose its internal memory settings. That's because the VCR's clock information was stored in a chip that required constant power to keep the clock active and running. Many digital clocks work around power outages by allowing you to install a separate backup battery to retain power to the clock memory while the main power is off. And most didn't have battery backups.

And here's the second problem: VCRs were notoriously difficult to program or set to the correct time. It usually involved weird buttons and hard to navigate on-screen menus (on later models). Even if you figured out how to program it, what's the point of doing it if it's just going to reset again?

That's why VCR designers got away with the blinking clock syndrome: people were too lazy to program, so they didn't care that their VCR could be programmed, so they didn't demand VCRs with clock batteries. VCRs ended up being mostly used to play pre-recorded bought or rented movies, rendering the time-shifting functionality mostly an afterthought.

Ultimately, many VCRs did ship with auto-setting internal clocks that set themselves based on a broadcast time signature. Unfortunately, by the time this feature became widespread, VCRs were quickly being supplanted by DVD players and the "difficult VCR" stereotype was already firmly entrenched in the public consciousness.

What Were They Thinking?

The display flashes to indicate that the internal clock's settings have been lost. It's supposed to be helpful. It's also cheaper to build VCRs that don't require clock backup batteries.

DVD

Mistake #3: DVD Encryption

Device(s): DVDs, DVD Players

Today, it's easy to forget that DVDs were designed to have undefeatable copy protection. After all, it was already a decade ago that a group of intrepid tinkerers defeated the DVD format's "Content Scramble System" (CSS) and released what they'd learned onto the Internet.

Today, DVD encryption is such a joke that legitimate commercial applications openly integrate DVD ripping tools into their feature sets (although major software vendors shy away from it for fear of legal repercussions).

By extension, this design mistake goes for other forms of video copy protection as well: HDCP in HDMI connections causes hassles when it shouldn't, and Bl-Ray's DRM has already been cracked. Silly rabbits, DRM is for kids.

What Were They Thinking?

Adding a form of DRM to DVD media not only prevented the casual copy of DVD movie discs, but perhaps more importantly ensured that manufacturers of DVD players had to legally acquire a license to incorporate DVD decoding electronics into their designs.

In that second regard, CSS is not a design mistake. But it's a mistake with regard to the legal and technical hassle it causes to DVD customers who have a legitimate fair use reason to copy their movies onto another medium.

In some ways, it's also a mistake that people broke the encryption so easily- although that's the best mistake on this list.

Remote Controls

remote controls

Mistake #4: Too Many Buttons

Device(s): TV, DVR Remote Controls

Call it Benj's Law: The number of buttons on the average TV remote control doubles every 15 years. Let's take a look at the button forecast:

1950: four buttons
1965: eight buttons
1980: 16 buttons
1995: 32 buttons
2010: 64 buttons
2025: 128 buttons
2040: 256 buttons
2055: 512 buttons

remote control
The current Time Warner Cable DVR remote control (circa 2009) already sports 62 buttons (yes, really), most of which no one ever uses. As silly as the above forecasts seem, they might be a bit too relaxed: with the way things are going, TWC might upend Benj's Law and release a remote with a button for every single channel next year.

There's simply no need for so many buttons, be it 62, 128, or 1000; many modern remote functions could be simplified through clever use of on-screen menus. My favorite TV remote of all time, for a Daewoo TV set, boasts a mere 22 buttons. You could add four for DVR functionality: record, start/stop, fast-forward, and rewind. There you go: the perfect remote has only 26 buttons.

What Were They Thinking?

There's a common design fallacy in consumer electronics which posits that things have to get more complicated to get better. The need to generate constant revenue for manufacturers results in intentionally short product lifespans. Each new generation of products must add features (that aren't always necessary) to entice consumers to ditch the product they have and trade up for a shiny new model. We tech fans call that "feature creep."

Before long, you end up with a 20-headed monster-of-a-thing that nobody wants to touch. Then Apple comes in, simplifies it, and becomes the hero. I can see it now: Steve Jobs and the one-button TV remote that senses everything you could possibly want to do with it.

Mistake #5: Inconvenient and Confusing Buttons

Device(s): TV, DVR Remote Controls

Similar to the keys on terrible PC keyboards, remote control buttons somehow end up in the least effective and most confusing places. I'll just give you one example of many hundreds:

remote control

It's a mess, but still not as bad as some remotes. It hosts a large grid of uniformly shaped and sized buttons. There are two power buttons (guess which one actually turns on the device?). And you'll (rarely) find the two buttons you want to use the most - volume up and down - in the lower right corner. I know first hand because this is the remote for my father's hi-fi receiver, and it has maddened me on many an occasion.

My father also owns a CD player remote that one has to power on by pushing the remote's "on" button while pointing it at the CD player. You must power up the remote before you can use it for anything else. So to turn on the CD player remotely, you have to push the "on" button twice: once to turn on the remote, and once to turn on the CD player.

remote control
As a subset of this mistake (and mistake #4), many remotes try to cram too many functions onto a single button, making the task of figuring out what each button does quite confusing.

What Were They Thinking?

This is just a case of plain ol' bad design, with no evidence of design foresight or decent usability testing on the manufacturer's part.

Telephones

cordless phones

Mistake #6: The Chin Disconnection

Device(s): Cordless Telephones

Have you ever hung up on someone with your chin? How about your cheek? How about your hand while you were repositioning the phone? Your intrepid author has experienced every one of these scenarios as he braved 25 years of bad cordless phone design. (In retrospect, I consider it training for this article.)

If you're a member of the mobile phone generation, you might not understand: many cordless telephone designers placed "talk," "flash," or "hook" buttons or switches in inconvenient or ill-conceived places. The "talk" or "hook" button usually turned the phone on and off, while the "flash" button quickly switched over to another line to answer call waiting.

The worst scenario is when there's a flash button right next to your chin. Before phones were microscopically small and easy to inhale accidentally like they are now, people used to hold phone handsets between their shoulder and their head for hands-free operation. That left your chin or cheek perfectly positioned to press against flash or talk buttons and hang up on your friends. I can't even begin to count how many times I've done that. A friend whom I had not yet met in person even accused me of having a "Dudley Do-Right chin," which I swear is not the case.

What Were They Thinking?

They had to put all those buttons somewhere, didn't they? Some designers just put them in bad places, or used buttons that weren't recessed and were too easy to press by accident.

Mistake #7: The Ultra-Tiny Cordless Phone

Device(s): Cordless Telephones

cordless phones
In Mistake #6, I mentioned cordless telephones small enough to accidentally inhale, and I meant it. Since the early 1990s, cordless phone manufacturers have been in a heated-yet-pointless race to miniaturize their phone handsets to levels beyond human usability.

These aren't mobile/cell phones I'm talking about, mind you, but traditional landline phones with a wireless handset. While we consumers were perfectly happy with human-sized phone handsets that we could easily operate with human-sized fingers and comfortably cradle between our neck and shoulders, cordless phone makers were continuously shrinking and slimming the size of the handsets down to Lilliputian levels. We can sum up the futility and needlessness of this design choice with one sentence:

Cordless phones aren't cell phones, so there is no need to shrink them.

Let me repeat that for you consumer electronics companies out there who weren't listening. This is very important.

Cordless phones aren't cell phones, so there is no need to shrink them.

Do these companies expect me to carry around my house-bound cordless phone in my pants pocket throughout the day just in case I get a call? Do they expect women to carry them in their purses around the house while they're at home? If that were the case, then super-tiny cell phone-sized cordless handsets would be nice. But I'm guessing that 99% of cordless phone users don't treat their cordless phones like a cell phone.

While it's handy that modern cordless handsets are relatively small and portable, they've been as small as they need to be since 1990. Please, cordless phone designers, I beg, you: make your cordless phones human-sized again.

What Were They Thinking? (Benj's Theory)

This seems to be a case of unnecessary feature creep in the name of product differentiation. I also suspect that tiny, ultra-modern looking cordless phones look more attractive from a marketing standpoint - especially in a world dominated by super small cell phones. But I fear that almost everyone who has purchased such small cordless phones has regretted it.

proprietary connectors

Mistake #8: Flimsy Proprietary Connectors

Device(s): Cell Phones

There was a time when every single mobile phone manufacturer used a different proprietary connector for its adapter. Sometimes different phones by the same manufacturer used different connectors. That's annoying enough: it forces users to buy the vendor's official accessories to use with the device-at least for a couple years before the cloners catch on.

Even worse, in the quest to make the most unique, newfangled proprietary connector possible, phone designers (cough Motorola) began to pack in too many flimsy little pins that rarely stay springy and resilient, then mold it into an overall shape that tended to break with minimal use.

One your charger connector is broken, you have to buy a new one. Not so fast - it has to be a charger designed for one specific phone model only produced for six months in 2006. What? It's no longer in production? Tough luck-you can either buy a refurbished adapter from the vendor's back stock for $100, buy an even crappier built 3rd party charger that will break in three days, or buy a completely new phone and be their contract slave for another two years.

While there are movements to push phone charger connectors to a unified, industry-wide standard, we aren't there quite yet. Today's cell phones are generally more compatible, charger-wise, than those of the 1990s - especially thanks to the use of USB on smartphones. But there's still variability in USB connector size and the issue of whether a particular USB connection or adapter will provide enough juice to charge the phone properly.

What Were They Thinking?

Customer lock-in, poor design, planned obsolescence. It's hard to design a connector that's tiny, durable, and does everything you want (not just charge, but carry data and audio). That's why some companies (like Nokia) use two separate connectors for charging and data synchronization on some of their models, with the simpler connector being the one for charging, as it should.

battery life

Mistake #9: Poor Battery Life

Device(s): Cell Phones

Modern mobile phones are the Swiss Army Knives of the digital age: every year, they gain another feature that has nothing to do with talking on the phone. First it was fancy ringtones, then keyboards, then color backlit screens, then cameras, then full-blown computers with email and Internet access. All that functionality uses up a lot of juice, leaving little battery life left for talk or standby time.

What Were They Thinking?

There's feature creep, of course, which adds new features to phones that continue to push the limits of what current battery technology can handle. Then there's the bedazzled consumer: Who cares if you can only talk for one hour if your phone lets your browse the web from anywhere for 30 minutes?

So the even bigger problem might be on my end: believing that cell phones are still designed primarily with speech-based communication in mind.

answering machines

Mistake #10: What Time Did They Call?

Device(s): Digital Answering Machines

In the brief age before ubiquitous voicemail services, digital answering machines commonly drove their owners to the brink of insanity by forgetting their date settings every time the power briefly dropped out. The result? The machine tells you (in that sultry, husky voice) that your old college buddy called Sunday, 4 AM, when in fact he called Tuesday at 6 PM. There's a big difference.

I owned such a machine; it shared a kitchen outlet with a microwave. Every month, the microwave would pop the local outlet circuit breaker, taking my answering machine's date/time data with it. Thankfully, it at least remembered the messages without power. At least.

After a power loss, you fall into a similar situation as that with the VCR: the time/date is too cumbersome to set quickly - who has the time for that these days? - so you leave it alone, and the date is always wrong.

What Were They Thinking?

It's cheaper to make answering machines that don't use clock battery backups. I guess the designers also assume that either (a) your power doesn't drop out very often, or (b) even if it does, you aren't lazy enough to not re-set the time.

Clocks

alarm clock

Mistake #11: Alarm Difficult to Set

Device(s): Clock Radios

"Difficult to set" seems to be a theme in this list, doesn't it? Well, it's quite a design sin. Companies make some alarm clock-radios so complicated that hotels have to post 8-step instructions telling its guests how to set them. Upon seeing that, most guests probably just pick up the phone and request a wake up call, hoping in their heart that the wake-up-caller does not rely on the same alarm clock model stationed in your room.

The complexity and confusion of alarm clock setting doesn't just stem from weirdly shaped, sized, or placed buttons. It comes from embarrassingly simpler things that leave you wondering, "Why can't I tell if the alarm is active and operational or not? Will it actually go off tomorrow morning?" and "Is this thing set for 7 AM or 7 PM?"

Ah yes, the famous AM/PM issue - the subject of entertaining conjecture in a Seinfeld episode about alarm clock problems. Some clocks have a dot to indicate that the time you see is in the AM range of the day, and some clocks use the dot to denote the PM hours. Some don't have a dot at all. This inconsistency has caused many an alarm clock to ring either 12 hours ahead of or behind schedule.

A number of other people hate hotel alarm clocks as much as I do.

What Were They Thinking?

This is a result ill-conceived design, feature creep, and/or the fallacy that more design complexity looks commercially impressive to the buyers of alarm clocks. In fact, it only makes customers smash them with a hammer.

Printers

inkjet printers

Mistake #12: Clogged Inkjet Nozzles

Device(s): Inkjet Printers

How many times have you tried to use your inkjet printer and discovered that it produced streaky or half-invisible printouts? I once owned a printer that wouldn't print at all if you didn't use it for a week. That's because the inkjet print heads that sprayed ink onto the paper always clogged up with dry ink.

To get my printer working again, I had to run four or five head cleaning cycles in a row, then print out ink-intensive test sheets. Every time I ran the cleaning cycle, of course, it used up lots of ink, which is very expensive. (Expensive ink is another problem, of course, but it's a marketing mistake, not a design mistake.)

After years of printers with this problem (most made by Epson - I'm callin' you out!), I believe that the issue isn't as prevalent as it was some years ago. But while it lasted, it felt like I was flushing money down the toilet every time I used my printer. In fact, my toilet didn't even use water to flush; it used Epson Brand (TM) printer ink.

What Were They Thinking?

I doubt that printer engineers purposely made their inkjet print nozzles prone to clogging up. That problem is somewhat inherent in how inkjet technology works. But with ink prices what they were (and are), certain companies might not have bent over backwards to prevent it from happening because ink sales made/make much more money for printer companies than sales of the printers themselves.

PC load letter

Mistake #13: PC LOAD LETTER

Device(s): HP LaserJet Printers

Any fan of the movie Office Space is familiar with this problem, and in some ways it extends to devices beyond printers. It happens when a gadget's error messages are needlessly brief and cryptic.

Picture this scenario: The HP LaserJet printer you're using stops working. Its one-line status display reads, "PC LOAD LETTER." You think to yourself:

Hmm... PC. Personal computer? Load. Load what? Load a program? Letter. I'm not writing a letter. Maybe I should load a letter into the printer from the PC? Does it need an envelope? Or is the PC I'm using not sending letters (ABC) properly to the printer? Should I check the printer cable?

As it turns out, the printer is simply out of paper. The display could have said, "OUT OF PAPER," or "RELOAD PAPER," or "PAPER TRAY EMPTY." But no, clever HP engineers devised a needlessly complex coding scheme for error messages that almost always require a flip through the manual to figure out.

So let's decode this error for real. "PC" is for "paper cassette" - the plastic cassette the printer pulls paper from. The "load" is telling the user that the printer is out of paper (so load some up, duh). And the "letter" represents letter size paper. Since the printer supported multiple paper sizes, it was possible to get a "PC LOAD LEGAL" as well, which would tell the user to reload legal size paper into the cassette.

A simple "out of paper" would have worked, and here's why. I'll walk you through this, even if only for the sake of printer engineers everywhere.

If the user knew the printer was out of paper, the user would look in the most obvious places - either the paper cassette, or another paper feeder tray. Suspecting the cassette, they'd pull it from the printer to see if it's really empty. In our scenario, that would be true. Now what kind of paper should the user put in the paper cassette? Hint: what size do 99% of users print on? Standard 8.5?x11? letter size paper is the answer. If he were trying to print on legal size paper (and if the paper cassette accepted both sizes at once), he would easily see that the cassette held no more legal size paper and refill accordingly. So the entire message is useless and needlessly confusing.

What Were They Thinking?

We find here a classic case of over-engineering and being too specific when a more general (and less confusing) error message would do. The engineers knew exactly what "PC LOAD LETTER" meant (and every other combination of error words), so they found absolutely no problem in the design. The printer's error readout was accurate to a fault; so accurate, in fact, that no one understood it without a reference.

Audio Devices

iPod batteries

Mistake #14: The Entombed Battery

Device(s): iPods, iPhone

In some ways, one could hail Apple's decision to permanently build batteries into iPods as a stroke of genius. This allowed iPods to be smaller, sleeker, and more stylishly metal-cased than would be possible with a removable, user-serviceable battery. And with batteries out of reach of the consumer, no one would ever eat them accidentally.

But fast forward a few years to a time when you want to use your previously $400 iPod to play music. Oops! The battery's dead. If you were one of the early adopters that bought an iPod that isn't as thin as a piece of paper (and which cost $400), you might just be able to pry it open with specialized tools (trying not to scratch, dent, and bend the thing up in the process) and replace the battery with an aftermarket model. But if you're a more recent iPod customer, you might have trouble getting it open without completely destroying the unit. If that's the case, you have two choices: pay Apple $49-$79 dollars to replace the battery, or buy a new iPod.

Then there's the other problem. To date, Apple has sold over 240,000,000 members of the iPod series, all of which are designed with limited shelf life in mind. Who cares if the battery wears out, Apple presumably thinks, when the whole device is going to be obsolete in six months

Somebody cares. Last year's iPods have to end up somewhere - probably in the trash. In that way, iPods serve as expensive disposable media players. And as environmentalists have been trying to tell us for years, "disposable" usually means wasteful, which usually means that monumental mountains of discarded iPods could be detrimental to the environment.

Due to criticism of this very issue, Apple stepped up efforts in 2007 to both promote recycling of their old products and to build less toxic materials in their new ones. That effort should be commended, but sadly, Apple devices with sealed batteries are still creating premature obsolescence and needless waste. The problem has extended further than iPods now, with both iPhones and (somewhat more disturbingly) Mac laptops also adopting the sealed-battery design.

What Were They Thinking?

Keeping the battery out of the reach of users makes iPods sleeker, simpler, and more aesthetically pleasing all around. It means there are less opportunities for the consumer to accidentally screw up the product (insert the battery backwards, etc.), which results in cheaper technical support costs. It also means that Apple has fewer less-profitable products (think separate battery sales) to distribute and maintain.

Most importantly for Apple, the entombed battery builds planned obsolescence into the products, which encourages iPod users to buy the latest model when their old one craps out. These factors are all win-win for Apple, with very little advantage for the consumer.

But I'll admit, the consumer does see one very good upside to the built-in battery design decision: in the case of the iPhone and iPod touch, it allows Apple's products to be incredibly thin and lightweight properties that would likely suffer if the devices incorporated removable batteries.

In the case of the iPhone, consumers would probably rather have a sleeker, smaller device than a clunky one with a removable battery. This effect is no doubt partially responsible for the iPhone's incredible sales verses competing products with removable batteries. But I still think it's a worthy goal for Apple to figure out how to integrate a removable battery into such a small and sleek form factor. Think of it as a challenge, Apple. I'm sure your world-class industrial designers are up to it.

DRM

Mistake #15: DRM

Device(s): MP3 Players, Pseudo-Compact Discs

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is quite possibly the worst thing that's happened to consumers in the history of electronic media. In the quest to protect artistic works from illegal exploitation, content makers and distributors have severely inconvenienced the consumer. While not as much of a problem as it used to be (with most online music vendors now abandoning it), when DRM commonly straitjacketed our media, it was quite a headache.

The irony of DRM is that it never prevents true piracy. Determined pirates - the ones who actually steal from content companies and sell the goods on the black market - always get around any copy protection scheme humans can devise (unsurprisingly, they often acquire movies/music before it is DRM'd to begin with). There is no 100% hack proof version of copy protection short of locking the only copy of an artistic work in a sealed lead vault.

And so - as many critics of DRM argue - the type of piracy that DRM most often prevents is not actually a form piracy at all, but "fair use" rights of a casual consumer who wants to copy a work to another form of media for their own personal, private use.

Sometimes DRM even prevents a user from enjoying the media they bought in the first place. In a prominent example, there was a time when you could only play your purchased iTunes Music Store tracks on an iPod or in iTunes, and you'd need to log in with an official Apple iTunes account to make it happen.

Although Apple abandoned DRM for all songs it sells in early 2009, if you have a vast library of DRM'd music from before the switch, you'll still be locked in to Apple-authorized players unless you pay 30 cents a track to upgrade to DRM-free versions. That means if Apple's not around in 20 years and you don't upgrade, you wont be able to play that music on any new devices, computers, or installations of iTunes. That's a design mistake.

Apple DRM is bad enough. But what's even worse is when music companies try to apply DRM to the traditionally open CD audio format. In the case of Sony, their XCP copy protection scheme ended up consisting of a rootkit that installed itself on the listener's computer without permission. Malicious hackers realized this and exploited XCP's built-in subterfuge to hide malware on a user's system. Now that's what I call a design mistake. A huge one.

Meanwhile, every attempt at tighter DRM controls could very well be driving more and more users to illegal file sharing sites, where users can get the music and use it how they see fit-no strings attached.

What Were They Thinking?

Content providers are trying to protect their business. If your business is to sell access to music and someone else regularly distributes the same product for free, then it's a scary situation. It's so scary that content providers will try anything, and I mean anything, to prevent it from happening - even if it means suing their own customers, crippling a standardized format, or restricting fair use rights traditionally enjoyed by entertainment consumers.

And in the End...

Obviously this list only touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumer electronics design mistakes. I'm sure that, given enough time, I could squeeze in a lot more design mistakes and make this list go on forever (Microsoft Zune, anyone?). But an infinitely long article isn't any fun. So please feel free to share your least favorite consumer electronics design mistakes in the comments below. I'd especially love to hear of mistakes pertaining to pre-1990s products.

More Design Mistakes stories by Benj Edwards:

15 Classic PC Design Mistakes

Fifteen Classic Game Console Design Mistakes

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