James Kendrick, of the mobile computing blog jkOnTheRun just asked me if we were interested in an article on "unboxing videos." I'm happy to say I immediately responded with my usual alertness: "Huh? Whutza 'unboxing video'?"
He explained that an "unboxing video" is a video made by geeks unboxing their latest electronic toys -- the new iPod Nano or PS3 or whatever. He pointed me to a video interview he did, explaining unboxing for a Houston, Texas, Fox News affiliate. (Hey, it's a video about unboxing videos. That's so meta! Far out!)
He also pointed out an article that ran last week in an obscure little business publication called "The Wall Street Journal" which describes the trend and points out that it's an outgrowth of the care that marketers have been putting into packaging of their new electronic gadgets. (No registration required to read the article.)
Big technology companies have long believed that the ritual of removing a product from its box is part of what makes it attractive to consumers. Making the process of unwrapping more elaborate and dramatic, they reason, adds value. Apple Computer's iPod Shuffle, for example, comes in a transparent plastic case that shows off the product before the box is even opened. The cords, earbuds and instructions are hidden away at the bottom.
"The packaging is very elaborate, very exotic, so when we open up a product from Apple it is like an adventure," Mr. Nguyen says.
Part of me says, "Oh, that's just sad."
Another part of me says it's actually practical. One of the drawbacks to shopping for gadgets online is you don't get a really clear sense of what the gadgets, their accessories, and cables look like. That's one of the reasons I've always like the hardware reviews on The Gadgeteer. For example, take a look at this review of the Treo 750v; as a Treo 650 owner myself, it shows me lots of stuff I want to see before buying: What it looks like, what it comes with, how the video looks on the display, how it looks with the back cover off. There's even a close-up of the stylus and side-by-side photos with the Treo 650.
Now, you'd think this would be a great opportunity for brick-and-mortar stores like CompUSA and Fry's to compete with Internet commerce, but consumer electronics stores don't seem to be interested. Going to those places is pretty unpleasant; I avoid it wherever possible. When you go to a consumer electronics store, the display models are chained down tighter than rusted-on lug nuts, and salespeople are harder to find than a decent burrito in New York. And when you do find a salesperson, they'll tell you that there's a store policy that says you can't open the box to see what's inside until you buy. Hey, I thought Let's Make A Deal was off the air -- "You can keep your money or you can see what's inside the box!"