IT'S become harder than ever to differentiate new technology products. When all you're doing is selling yet another Android phone, what on earth do you tell customers to convince them that yours is better than the next guy's?
Consumers are also becoming increasingly tech savvy and you can't baffle them with technical stats anymore. They'll find the truth online, along with what your product costs in other markets and peer reviews, hopefully from real people.
Facing these and other challenges, the world's vendors of technology products have taken to hyping the living hell out of whatever it is they want you to buy. They will tell you that their smartphone is, in fact, the messiah on his return for round two.
They will tell you that their television supports a new feature that will make your current set look like an old gentleman in khaki shorts. Their internet connection is so fast it can take an up-and-coming comedian and turn him tired overnight.
Why on earth are you still sitting there? Get out and buy! Now! Before we run out of stock!
Unfortunately there are precious few new products that live up to the hype. Take 3D television, for example. I mean, it's cool. And novel. But it's certainly not worth ditching a perfectly good HD flat panel for.
And don't get me started on the glasses that make you look like a Star Trek character with better hair, and which you can't even wear while lying on the couch.
There is one 3D product that lives up to the hype, however – the new Nintendo 3DS portable gaming system is amazing. It doesn't require glasses and delivers a truly mind-blowing lenticular 3D experience, complete with the ability to take 3D pictures with its built-in camera.
The device is packed with features besides just gaming and will blow your hair back whether you're 12 or 92. Too bad it currently costs R2 800 in South Africa, whereas Americans are snatching up the new device for $250 (about R1 800). That aside, the 3DS lives up to the hype. Zelda in 3D, anyone?
Another attention-seeker is Cell C's new HSPA+ network that promises speeds Michael Schumacher would be scared of. Cell C launched the product with aggressive marketing, really competitive pricing and a slick new look for the company.
But does the new connection, now known as Whooosh, live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
Just like the little girl with the little curl, Cell C's new network is very very good when it's good, but when it's bad it's horrid (or something like that).
In metros where the network has been fine-tuned, it flies and you won't find a better bang for your buck. But Cell C has lots of work to do in terms of coverage. My home in Johannesburg, for example, has no coverage to speak of. Make sure of where you're going to engage the whoosh before believing the hype on this one.
The other thing we are told we should be buying at the moment are tablet computers. Specifically, the iPad has convinced at least 16 million people to take it home. In the name of science and consumers' best interests, I did just that.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPad he called it magical. This opens the door for comments about tricks and illusions – but not from me. The iPad is magical, if you know what you want to do with it.
Play games, manipulate pictures and enjoy media? Magic. Get through a day at the office with more than email and Twitter required? Not so much. I have managed to type articles and prepare slide shows for my talks on it, but I'd still prefer a laptop for those tasks. And soon there will be hundreds of other tablets to choose from, so let the hype distil a bit if you’re thinking of buying.
It's a war out there. The battle for your bucks is ongoing and who knows what they'll come up with next. Don't worry though – I'll buy it all and filter out the crap for you. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.