The Mother-in-law Case Study: VoIP versus telephones

I've tried on several occasions to setup my mother-in-law's PC so that she and my wife can talk over IP, but it never seems to catch on with them.  They gravitate to the phone no matter how much they like the demos I give them.  And it makes me wonder about the future of the PC.

I can usually motivate my wife to do something based on saving money.  Free calls is a very attractive offer, particularly since her family is in London, but Jessica still buys a $20 EuroKing phone card every few weeks.  It gets her about $0.03/minute.

Some of the other cards jack you with a connection fee and then crank the clock faster than time moves as the rest of us understand it.  But $0.03/minute is worth paying even if you chalk up several hours per week, because VoIP isn't good enough for them.

There are two problems -- convenience and fear.  The PC may never be more convenient than today's phone.  And until the PC moves into the living room, VoIP will be a second-class citizen at best. 

Perhaps more importantly, the software needs to surprise people less.  My mother-in-law came shooting down the stairs in a panic the other day.  "Matt!  The phone!  It's your brother!"  I could here Skype ringing.  "Either he's calling you or I'm calling him." 

I forgot to logoff when I was on the PC earlier, and she inadvertently hit something that triggered a call to my brother Mitch.  My mother-in-law didn't want to talk to him, obviously, and she wasn't clear what was happening.  It scared her.

Clearly, this case is an example of user error.  But it's these little things that make it impossible for me to convince her to use Skype instead of the phone.  Each surprise sets me back at least 3 months.

There must have been a learning curve for the masses when the first telephone appeared on the scene, but I wonder where the line is on what we expect people to learn and how simple we need to make the tools.  There's an aging generation that is less and less willing to learn new tools.  And it's that same generation that may be the biggest opportunity for VoIP services in the coming years. 

I used to think that the phone and the TV would morph into a more PC-like device.  But it seems to be moving the other direction.  I now wonder if the idea of a PC will be totally foreign to my daughter when she reaches her teens.

UPDATE: Chad Dickerson has a funny post on the pain of setting up a new PC...yet another reason why my mother-in-law won't ever become a PC person. 

Tags:  voip, design, skype


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The Mother-in-law Case Study: VoIP versus telephones