Last week I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Daily Tech News Show (DTNS), when the topic of Project Ara from Google came up. The archived episode is available here. It was an interesting discussion, as they always are on DTNS, and I had a thought. I wondered what, if any, impact the paradox of choice would have on Project Ara.
For those not familiar with the paradox of choice, this is my understanding. It is ‘conventional wisdom’ that having more choice is good. Indeed, the more choices that you have the better. However this is not always the case. In particular:
- More choices increases anxiety about making the ‘best’ choice, by increasing the number of options and comparisons that you have to make. For example two choices mean that you have two comparisons to make in order to determine which one is ‘best’. If you have four choices you now have six comparisons to make and five choices means nine comparisons.
- More choices increases feelings of regret that you may not have made the ‘right’ or ‘best’ choice. The more choices you have, the greater the anxiety that the ‘best’ choice wasn’t made because one of the other options may have been better.
In short, the more choices that you have, the more anxious that you are during the decision making process, and the more regret you feel and after.
As a software engineer I try to keep this in mind when developing software that contains configuration screens. Particularly if there are a significant number of choices. Because the anxiety becomes so great that the user makes the easiest choice available to them. That is, leave the options at their defaults. A classic example related to Microsoft Word is available here. As such ensuring suitable defaults is paramount, but I digress.
I wondered if this type of thinking would apply to Project Ara. At its core, Project Ara is about giving consumers the ability to build their own mobile phone by selecting from a wide range of different modules and integrating them into a single frame. I can see that this type of paradigm means that a consumer will have many choices to make. Perhaps even too many choices.
If this is the case, I can’t help wondering if consumer satisfaction with Project Ara phones will suffer. Because of anxiety during the process of deciding on which modules to have, and anxiety afterward the purchasing decision has been made due to concern that a different combination may have been ‘better’.
I’m interested in mobile computing and will keep an eye on news of the project and see what the world makes of it.