Most of us are old enough to remember the early days of personal computers, back when they were just whirring hunks of noisy plastic used for data entry or simple word processing. Now, computers touch nearly every facet of our lives, from how we communicate and work to how we travel and relax.
For each of these areas, computers often require various accessories to maximize their functionality for the particular task. Whether it’s a fancy mouse for gaming or a near-indestructible keyboard suited for a warehouse, these accessories have become a booming market in and of themselves. To best explore this diverse and complex group of products, we’ve broken down a few sub-genres of computer accessories, highlighting their perks and perils.
Huh?: Covering standard products like mice, keyboards and other types of necessary computing hardware, these “vanilla” accessories, are the most conventional, but also the most widely used.
Consider: The idea isn’t just to give end-users a new keyboard or mouse, but one better than their current device so the product will be used. There is a wide array of bell-and-whistle features that can boost a product’s perceived value, like wireless connections or additional buttons, but it’s also important to consider the device’s performance as a whole. As Mary Crug, co-owner of Direct Connections Inc., Redmond, Wash., explained, “What [distributors] really need is to ask some questions and find out what’s on the inside.” She continued, “Especially on wireless mice, if you use a low-grade chip to build that mouse, you’ll burn through tons of batteries. So you may be saving 50 cents or a dollar, but your customer or the end-user is going to be very unhappy with having to replace batteries constantly.”
User-friendliness: Good overall. Nearly all device upgrades are going to be plug-and-play, meaning they work as soon as they’re connected to a computer, but additional features like customizable shortcut or media keys may add confusion or simply not be used.
Huh?: USB memory drives, mini mice, foldable keyboards and various portable chargers are items well-suited for the road.
Consider: “Every type of industry has professionals on the go ... traveling to meet with clients, conduct training or sales presentations,” said Scott Pearson, vice president of merchandising for Sweda Company, City of Industry, Calif. “ Technology is traveling with us and there are all sorts of functional accessories to help make life easier.”
With mini mice or keyboards, making things easier means a focus on portability and solid construction. For USB drives, there are a variety of features available that are particularly useful for travel. Sweda Company, for example, offers a flash drive with fingerprint security, a good idea for anyone traveling with sensitive information like employee data or revenue figures. Going a different direction, Direct Connections Inc. can program any of its USB drives with something it calls “StickyDrive,” essentially a customizable browser for the drive that, among other things, makes easy work of sorting through huge masses of files.
User-friendliness: Good. Mice and keyboards will be similar to standard device upgrades, but typically easier to use, considering a lack of complexity is often a trade off for a smaller size. Any USB drive worth using should be simple by nature, functioning like an extension of the computer’s hard drive, but this can vary depending on how the drive’s interface is programmed.
Huh?: Now-ubiquitous portable music players like Apple’s iPod or other MP3 devices.
Consider: Many of the music players offered by suppliers are not Apple-affiliated, meaning they can work with any download client, be it Amazon’s or Walmart’s digital stores, as opposed to the iPod, which must be used with iTunes. This gives non-Apple music players a broader user base. However, from a form perspective, there’s no reason to let all of Apple’s marketing efforts go waste. Mirroring Apple’s sleek device style can be an excellent strategy for improving a promotion’s appeal. “The design is a popular design in retail,” said Crug.“I think that when they offer [something similar] to promote, it gives them added perceived value.”
User-friendliness: Varied. Digital music players may seem completely basic to some, but for those unfamiliar with file manipulation, download services and occasionally frustrating device menus, a cutting-edge media player might as well be a brightly colored doorstop. Not a good choice for the uninitiated or for those not interested in digital music.
Huh?: Products made from either recycled materials or earth-friendly components.
Consider: Though most eco-behaviors with computer products are currently voluntary, this is not the case in the European Union. The potential for dangerous toxicity with computer products caused the EU to create the “Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations” directive (RoHS) in 2006, which limits the levels of substances like lead, mercury and cadmium in electronics.
Considering other product restrictions like PhRMA and BPA bans occurred in the EU first, distributors would be wise to keep an eye on RoHS as well. Crug pointed out, too, that RoHS and EU standards in general are a good place to start when environmentally evaluating a product. “My hope is that the U.S. will come up with some standards for electronics coming into the country, but right now there are none,” she said. “If you want to be green and compliant and concerned about the environment, you kind of have to go with the European standard.”
User-friendliness: Great for both end-users and distributors. Green products are becoming a stronger and stronger marketing angle, and when considered with the potential legal risk and environmental damage from using conventional products, there doesn’t seem to be much of a downside to going green.