Great Expectations

Yesterday at CeBIT, a huge IT tradeshow held in Germany, the long-rumored Origami mobile computers were unveiled. These “Ultramobile PCs” can be best described as a cross between a tablet PC and a portable media player. Sounds like every gadget-geek’s dream, right? And that’s the problem. In the months leading up to the unveiling, rumors on gadget blogs and elsewhere encouraged daily speculation. By the time the reality was revealed, well, it was hard to live up to expectations.

Many anticipated Microsoft’s answer to the video iPod, or a gaming device to rival Sony’s PlayStation Portable. They wanted more features and more revolutionary specs than they found in the actual Ultramobile PCs. With these blogs acting as gadget grapevines, techaholics (like me) simply had their expectations too high. It didn’t help that Microsoft, as most companies do, encouraged some hype–it had launched a teaser site that was rich in platitudes, but featured no substantive details. The leaked pics at the gadget sites did not help either. (A similar thing happened at the last Apple event a couple of weeks ago, when fans were hoping for a new video iPod and got a Wi-Fi speaker instead.)

While frenzied speculation about tech products is nothing new, the 24/7 community that these blogs foster only gets the rumor mill churning faster. Hardcore fans that examine every little leaked detail about the next great cell phone, portable media player, or doohickey-du-jour can only be disappointed when the promised wonder-gizmo turns out to just be the next iteration of established technology.

Should companies rethink their early marketing to create more realistic expectations? Or do these companies need to be listening to those excited customers more closely when trying to design the next big thing?